New research has revealed that over a third of food products labeled as vegan in the UK contain animal ingredients, raising concerns about potential dangers for individuals with severe allergies.
A recent investigation conducted by Hampshire and Kent Scientific Services found that, out of 61 products labeled as vegan, 39% (24 products) contained traces of egg or dairy.
These included 13 dairy alternatives and 48 meat alternatives.
Shockingly, 90% of the analyzed products were deemed “unsatisfactory” due to the presence of dairy traces or inaccuracies in their labeling and nutritional information.
The range of items tested included vegan versions of chocolate truffles, pizza, burgers, muffins, and wraps.
“The lack of legal definition could be exploited by unethical food businesses claiming foods are as vegan, when in fact they contain animal-derived products,” explains John Herriman, the chief executive of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI).
“Perhaps of greater concern is that this ambiguity can have disastrous and sometimes tragic consequences for those with allergies to animal-derived products, like milk and eggs.
“We are aware that people have sadly lost their lives because of this and are therefore calling for more clarity on what can and can’t legally be described as vegan and plant-based food.”
Polling conducted by the CTSI revealed that a significant majority (76%) of respondents believed that products marketed as vegan were free from animal-derived ingredients, despite there being no legal definition for vegan food at this time.
The UK and EU have threshold requirements for trace amounts of gluten, but not for animal-derived ingredients.
This lack of regulation could pose a significant risk to the one in six people who suffer from milk or shellfish allergies in the UK, as well as the 1.5% of people who follow a vegan lifestyle.
Among respondents with milk allergies, 84.6% mistakenly believed that vegan foods were safe for them to consume. This misconception was highest among individuals aged 35-44 (92.7%).
Among the 55 “unsatisfactory” food products in the investigation, 49% (27 products) exhibited labeling anomalies, including inaccuracies in portion sizes and allergen information, with some products lacking proper warnings.
Additionally, 39 products showed inaccuracies in nutritional information, averaging at least one per sample.
The most common inaccuracies were related to carbohydrate content, which was deemed inaccurate in 14 cases. This also poses a significant threat to type 1 diabetics, who typically take custom doses of insulin based on a food’s carbohydrate content.
Current food labeling regulations outline 14 substances or products that may cause food allergies or intolerances, requiring their presence to be emphasized in ingredient lists by using bold text or other clear indicators.
Consumers are advised to scrutinize ingredient lists on products labeled as plant-based or vegan, paying attention to ingredients such as casein (a milk protein), lactose (a milk and sugar protein), whey (a milk byproduct), collagen (derived from animal skin and bones), as well as lard or tallow (animal fat).
A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “Food labels must not be misleading to ensure consumers can have confidence in the food they are buying – which is why we require the presence of ingredients which may cause food allergies to be clearly highlighted on packaging.”