The difference between vegan and
free-from allergy labelling

Vegan-Food-Labelling

Are vegan foods safe for those with allergies and is it regulated by law?

In recent years the number of individuals following vegan diets and those with dietary restrictions due to food allergies have both significantly increased. Subsequently, the availability of vegan as well as ‘free from’ products has also become greater. This has resulted in confusion around labelling on products, which has, in some cases, been fatal.

New research by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) showed 62% of people who react to animal-based products, or who buy for someone who does, are confident that products labelled ‘vegan’ are safe to eat. This is incorrect and may be putting them at risk. Navigating food labels can be challenging as laws and products continue to change.

Here we examine the laws for food allergy labelling and vegan products, how to decipher it and how to safeguard those with food allergies….

Did you know...

Understanding the terminology

Vegan

The term “vegan” refers to products that do not contain any animal-derived ingredients or by products. Vegan labelling on packaging provides assurance to consumers who choose to avoid animal products for ethical, environmental, or health reasons. In the UK, the use of vegan labels is not strictly regulated by law.

Free From

‘Free from’ foods are special ranges of foods made without certain allergens. If a label states that the product is ‘free-from milk’ or, ‘peanut free’, it has to be based on specific and rigorous controls. These controls need to ensure that the final product is completely free of the particular allergen. This includes checking that all ingredients and packing materials do not contain this allergen and that cross contamination from other foods made on site is prevented.*

click here for more information on the 14 major food allergens…

Gluten Free Food Labelling

Precautionary Allergen Labelling (PAL)

Commonly known as ‘may contain,’ these statements are voluntary and not regulated by law. PAL is used to communicate the possible unintentional presence of a food allergen at any stage in the food chain.

PAL includes phrases like:

  • May contain nuts
  • May contain traces of egg
  • Made in a factory that handles peanuts
  • Not suitable for milk allergy sufferers

Vegan Labelling

Vegan labelling does not have a legal UK or EU definition regarding what they can or cannot contain. Voluntary labelling of terms such as “vegan” are covered by the Food Information Regulations 2014 and Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, which states products cannot be misleading, and as a vegan diet does not include animal products, by labelling a food vegan the food must therefore not contain animal products. This, however, does not mean the food will be safe from contamination or traces of animal products as a vegan claim does not need to go through any rigorous tests.

This means a food can be labelled vegan and have a PAL statement for milk or egg.

Vegan food can be prepared in factories and areas where products of animal origin may be present. This could mean that some vegan food products could unintentionally contain allergens.

Vegan Trademark

The Vegan Trademark was designed to provide clarity for those following vegan diets and removing the need to read through ingredients list. And whilst the trademark standards require minimising cross contamination as far as possible, rigours tests of complete removal of animal products are not required.

This is why many products include precautionary statements such as “may contain milk” while also being labelled as ‘vegan’. The Vegan Society does not claim that products registered with the Vegan Trademark are suitable for people with allergies to animal products; this depends on the standards achieved by individual manufacturers. It is this that has caused confusion for consumers, many wrongly assuming vegan products are suitable for someone with a milk allergy, for example.

How to keep your diners safe

Vegan labelling does not have a legal UK or EU definition regarding what they can or cannot contain. Voluntary labelling of terms such as “vegan” are covered by the Food Information Regulations 2014 and Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, which states products cannot be misleading, and as a vegan diet does not include animal products, by labelling a food vegan the food must therefore not contain animal products.

This, however, does not mean the food will be safe from contamination or traces of animal products as a vegan claim does not need to go through any rigorous tests.

keeping diners safe

In Summary...

There is no agreed definition for ‘vegan’ in UK food law. This means that vegan food labelling is not about food safety.

Food safety labelling, like ‘free-from’ or ‘allergen-free’, are a guarantee that the specified food will be absent from the product. But vegan food labelling simply indicates that no animal-based ingredients were intentionally used.

Understanding this difference is crucial for individuals with food allergies, as the unintentional presence of allergens in a product labelled vegan can pose a risk and, in some cases, could cause fatal consequences.

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