39% of vegan products contaminated with milk or egg, new study shows | Totally Vegan Buzz

39% of vegan products contaminated with milk or egg, new study shows

Asda lowers prices of free-from products range to match non-vegan rates
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90% of the inspected vegan products also failed due to traces of dairy or inaccuracies in labelling and nutritional information.

More than a third of foods labelled as vegan in the UK contain animal products, according to a new study by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI).

Food inspectors examined 61 products labelled as vegan. They found that 39% (24 products) contained animal-derived ingredients, including dairy and eggs. These misleading products included 13 dairy alternatives and 48 meat alternatives. Furthermore, a staggering 90% of the vegan products failed the inspections due to traces of dairy or inaccuracies in labelling and nutritional information.

The implications of these findings are far-reaching, as they contradict the expectations of most consumers. A recent CTSI poll revealed that 76% of the 2,000 participants believed that products labelled as vegan were free from any animal products. This misconception, coupled with the prevalence of mislabeled vegan foods, poses a significant risk to individuals with severe allergies, potentially leading to tragic consequences.

It is estimated that approximately 1.5% of the UK population follows a vegan lifestyle, while one in six people have allergies to milk or shellfish. Astonishingly, the poll results showed that 84.6% of individuals with milk allergies and a staggering 92.7% of those aged 35-44 believed that vegan foods were safe for consumption. These statistics underscore the urgent need for accurate labelling and increased clarity to protect vulnerable consumers.

Regulatory loopholes

One of the underlying issues contributing to this problem is the lack of a definitive legal definition for vegan food. This absence of clear regulations enables companies to label their products as vegan, even if they contain animal-derived ingredients such as dairy or eggs. Unlike the requirement for small amounts of gluten, there is currently no minimum limit for animal-derived ingredients in the UK or EU, allowing unscrupulous businesses to take advantage of the ambiguity surrounding vegan labelling.

The booming vegan industry has further intensified the need for stricter regulations. Sales of meat-free produce, including sausages and burger patties, have skyrocketed in the UK. According to Mintel, the market for these products doubled from £289 million in 2017 to a staggering £586 million in 2021. The absence of clear guidelines has incentivized companies to enter the market without ensuring accurate vegan labelling, compromising the trust and safety of consumers.

Unethical practices

The study also revealed a range of labelling errors, adding to the concerns surrounding vegan food products. Among the 55 products deemed “unsatisfactory,” 49% (27 products) displayed inaccuracies in their labels, including misleading portion sizes, inadequate allergen information, and insufficient warnings. Moreover, 39 products had errors in their nutritional information, with at least one mistake found in each sample on average.

The current food labelling regulations require companies to highlight 14 substances or products known to potentially cause allergies or intolerances, including celery, crustaceans, eggs, fish, gluten, lupin, milk, molluscs, mustard, peanuts, sesame, soya beans, sulphites, and nuts. However, the lack of specific regulations addressing vegan labelling has allowed these misleading products to infiltrate the market.

The Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs has emphasized the importance of accurate food labelling to maintain consumer confidence. A spokesperson 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.”

Consumer awareness

Mislabeling vegan products can be reported to various organisations, including the Advertising Standards Authority and the Citizens Advice Bureau.

The CTSI CEO, John Herriman, said: “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.

“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.”

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