UK – A recent study conducted by forensic scientists in the UK has unveiled that more than a third of foods labeled as vegan contain traces of animal products such as egg or milk.

The findings have sparked warnings from experts about the potential risks faced by individuals with severe allergies, urging for legal protection against misleading food labeling.

Inspections by Hampshire and Kent Scientific Services discovered that out of 61 vegan or plant-based products examined, 39% contained egg or dairy, with 90% failing due to traces of dairy or inaccuracies in labeling and nutritional information.

The lack of a legal definition for vegan food allows unethical food businesses to exploit the ambiguity and falsely claim their products are vegan, even if they contain animal-derived ingredients.

This poses serious consequences for individuals with allergies, leading to calls for greater clarity on what can be legally described as vegan or plant-based food.

The absence of a threshold requirement for animal-derived products in the UK and the EU further complicates matters, unlike the strict regulations surrounding gluten traces.

A survey conducted by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) reveals that 76% of respondents believe that products marketed as vegan are free from animal-derived ingredients.

However, the reality is that no legal framework currently ensures the accuracy of vegan labeling. This misperception is particularly concerning as 1 in 6 people suffer from milk or shellfish allergies, and among those with milk allergies, 84.6% believe vegan foods are safe for consumption.

The tragic case of Celia Marsh, who died after consuming a wrap from Pret a Manger labeled as vegan but containing milk protein due to cross-contamination, underscores the devastating consequences of undeclared allergens.

Call for accountability and clarity

The CTSI is advocating for stricter rules to hold food manufacturers and restaurants accountable if extreme allergic reactions occur due to mislabeled products.

Kerry Nicol, the Policy and Campaigns Executive at CTSI, acknowledges the increasing popularity of plant-based and vegan diets, accompanied by a rise in consumer complaints and incidents of mislabeling.

Addressing this issue is vital to prevent emotional stress for individuals adhering to ethical dietary choices and to protect those with intolerances and allergies.

The study found that most of the analyzed products were labeled as vegan, although some were described as plant-based.

However, the term “plant-based” does not necessarily guarantee the absence of animal products from a person’s diet.

Half of the survey respondents mistakenly believed that plant-based and vegan mean the same thing, leading to potential misinformation for individuals with allergies.

Consumers are advised to carefully examine ingredient lists on products labeled as vegan or plant-based, being cautious of hidden animal-derived ingredients such as casein, lactose, whey, collagen, lard, or tallow.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs emphasizes the importance of accurate food labeling to maintain consumer confidence.

Highlighting ingredients that may cause food allergies or intolerances is a requirement, ensuring they stand out in the ingredient list through methods like bold font.

However, the study reveals instances where this requirement was not met. To address these issues, regulatory changes are needed to protect consumers and ensure that vegan labeling is accurate and trustworthy.

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