Josie Wexler and Tim Hunt from Ethical Consumer look at the ethics behind the companies making meat-free products.
It's a minefield! You choose to go vegan but then have to navigate your way through brands and companies whose ethics just aren't up to scratch. Whether you’re choosing to avoid environmentally damaging ingredients or companies whose other brands are selling chicken ready meals, don't despair: help is at hand as Ethical Consumer has just released a new, freely available guide that looks in depth at the companies that produce vegan burgers and sausages.
In the guide Ethical Consumer researched and rated companies on a broad range of ethical criteria from animal rights to the likely use of tax havens.
In the market for meat-free burgers and sausages the big issues were around soya and its sustainability. Soya production has a history of being linked to South American deforestation, particularly in Brazil, which is one of the biggest exporting countries. This absolutely does not mean that vegans eating tofu have been a leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon. As you may know, most of the world’s soya is fed to animals: only 6% of it is eaten directly by people. Yet it is still sensible to be concerned about where the soya in your veggie burger comes from.
If it is grown well, soya should be an environmentalist’s best friend. It produces more protein per land area than any other major crop. And the good news is that there has been dramatic improvement in the deforestation situation in Brazil over the last decade. However the problem is not entirely solved, and soya can also be linked to other problems.
But another piece of good news is that there are some really ethical companies out there that take their responsibilities to animals and the environment seriously. These are our 'Best Buys': companies that come top of our rankings table.
In the guide, all of our Best Buys are vegan and have positive environmental agendas. Those companies are Veggies, Dragonfly, Life Foods (Taifun), Vbites (VegiDeli) and Fry’s. They only sell vegan products so you can be sure that your purchases aren't supporting a company that also sells meat or dairy.
About the Best Buy companies
Veggies is an explicitly political, vegan workers coop based in Nottingham. It has been going since 1984, providing vegan catering at events and supporting campaigns for human and animal rights and environmental protection. It also sells radical books, ecological cleaning supplies, vegan multivitamins and Zapatista coffee. Its food is organicand its soya is sourced from Europe. Their ready made sausages are available from the Lembas wholesalers who also distrubute to wholefood shops within a 90 mile radius of Sheffield. Their food is also Vegan Trademarked, so you can have confidence in the fact that it's vegan and not animal tested.
Dragonfly Foods is a small vegan company based in Devon which makes exclusively organic products. However the company didn't score well for their supply chain management. They are also a Vegan Trademark holder.
Taifun is owned by Life Foods, a German company which makes exclusively vegan, organic and tofu-based products. Its products contain no palm oil, and are made from ecologically grown European soya. They are another Vegan Trademark holder.
VBites foods used to be called Redwood. It makes the Cheatin', VegiDeli and Making Waves lines of meat alternatives. Sadly we couldn’t get information on its soya sourcing. Vbites' food is all Vegan Trademarked.
Fry’s* is a South African family company that produces vegan food and uses RSPO palm oil in their pies, the only products that contain it. Unfortunately we couldn’t get information on its soya sourcing. It runs the Fry’s Family Foundation that promotes vegetarianism throughout the world. Fry's are also Vegan Trademarked.
There are two more companies that scored quite well based upon factors such as sourcing and company ownership, but also sell non vegan (vegetarian products). These were Goodlife Foods (Goodlife brand) and Weeks Foods (Wicken Fen brand).
Both these companies sell vegan-friendly varieties of veggie sausages and burgers – Goodlife does a vegetable sausage and falafel balls, as well as a variety of burgers that are Vegan Trademarked.
Companies that also sell meat products
There were a number of companies that were also found to sell meat through other brands. They included.
• Hain Celestial the makers of the Linda McCartney’s range,
• Nestle who sell the Tivall brand,
• Dr A. Stoffel Holding AG who produce Granovita,
• Monde Nissin (Quorn and Cauldron)
We also researched and ranked the vegan-friendly supermarket products, who of course all sell meat products.
Of these, Linda McCartney and Quorn have vegan-friendly varieties, as do some of the supermarket products.
Want to know more about where your vegan burger is coming from? You can see the full product guide, including all the company scores, on the Ethical Consumer website.
By Josie Wexler and Tim Hunt
*Article amended 12/05/16 to reflect that Fry's use responsibly sourced palm oil rather than uncertified.
The views expressed by our bloggers are not necessarily the views of The Vegan Society.