Allergens and vegans
Products suitable for vegans may not be suitable for those living with allergies. Vegans avoid using non-human animals. Those living with severe allergies must avoid all traces of the allergens which affect them. These are very different issues.
Currently, allergens that must be labelled on foods and come from animals include crustaceans, fish, cow's milk, hen's eggs and molluscs. Companies must work out whether the foods they produce could contain any traces of the known allergens. If there is an unavoidable risk, the company should include a ‘may contain…’ label about the allergen. The UK Food Standards Agency gives more information about current EU allergen labelling rules.
The ingredients list gives intentional ingredients. Even with best food hygiene practices, some accidental contamination from animal substances can occur. Insect parts may occur in foods such as fruit, vegetables, chocolate, grains, flour and spices and it is often unavoidable to find non-contaminated versions of these items.
Chocolate production is a special case, as some of the intended product is used to flush out the production line, and then discarded. So cow's milk traces remain when a dark chocolate is manufactured after a cow's milk chocolate. Even with a factory where no cow's milk is used, test methods do not go as low as zero. The detection limit for lactose is 70 parts per million (ppm), so a manufacturer may only know that their product contains less than 70 ppm of lactose.
What about Trademark products?
The Vegan Society does not claim that products registered with the Vegan Trademark are suitable for people with allergies. This will depend on the standards achieved by individual manufacturers. To encourage manufacturers to give a serious commitment to avoiding animal cross-contamination the following statement has been added to the Vegan Trademark licence agreement:
"I confirm that our company strives diligently to minimise cross-contamination from animal substances used in other (non-vegan) products as far as is reasonably practicable."
So products registered with the Vegan Trademark can correctly also say ‘may contain milk’. We encourage manufacturers to produce more foods free of deliberate ingredients from animals, to reduce the exploitation of non-humans. As demand for vegan products grows, so will dedicated vegan production lines and factories.
Comment from the Food Standards Agency:
“As you are aware there is no legal definition of the term vegan, but the Agency's voluntary guidance on use of the terms vegetarian and vegan in food labelling advises that foods labelled as vegan should not contain milk and contains some advice on cross contamination.
Although the Agency advice suggests that: 'manufacturers, retailers and caterers should be able to demonstrate that foods presented as 'vegetarian' or 'vegan' have not been contaminated with non-vegetarian or non-vegan foods during storage, preparation, cooking or display' we would not be against a food that is labelled as vegan carrying a warning on the label that it is produced in a factory or on a line where certain dairy products or allergenic foods are also handled and used. We would also not be against a 'may contain....' warning. In fact we would consider it to be advantageous. It is important for safety reasons for consumers to know that possible allergens may be present."
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