Deciphering labels: We eat meat without knowing

Deciphering labels: We eat meat without knowing

Vegan Society of Canada News, December 3rd 2018

A recent article discussed that about 25% of us ate meat accidentally due to unclear labeling. It is very easy to see why. As if the ingredients where not difficult enough the decipher, vegan certification includes much more then just the ingredients we see on the label. For example, as we have seen in another article, filtration medium could be based on eggs, milk or animal derived gelatin. Furthermore, we also have to contend with genetically modified ingredients (GMOs). While GMOs are allowed in vegan certification, we must insure that the development and/or production of GMOs did not involve animal genes or animal derived substances. Without certification all of this is impossible to tell from the ingredients alone. Often we are told that if we want to make sure there are no GMOs we need to choose organic. However, it might come as a shock that this is not true. Unfortunately, organic standards make exemptions to GMOs when an organic ingredients is not commercially available. In Canada this is defined as

Documented ability to obtain a production input or an ingredient in an appropriate form, quality, quantity or variety, irrespective of cost, in order to fulfill an essential function in organic production or preparation.

Of course this is full of loopholes. One could make the case that non-GMO cornstarch is not commercially available even though non-GMO tapioca starch may be a reasonable substitute. We on the other hand do not allow the killing, torture or exploitation of animals even if substitutes are not commercially available. All of this makes it almost impossible for consumers to determine if a product would be vegan certifiable.

It should also now be clear that products are never accidentally vegan certifiable. To make a vegan certifiable product requires a commitment and clear message coming from all level of a corporation. Otherwise, someone somewhere could easily replace a broken filtration unit with a non vegan certifiable one that contains an animal based filtration medium. Therefore, while a product can accidentally be vegan certifiable for 1 day it is highly improbable that it would be accidentally vegan certifiable for 10 years. For large corporations, the cost of certification is insignificant and the reasons why products are labeled non-dairy, meat-free, or egg-free instead of vegan are most likely because they would not be vegan certifiable in the first place.

Many of you have contacted us asking that there be a simpler way for vegan consumers to recognize which products are and are not suitable for a vegan lifestyle. We are working on this and could use your help. Join us as a volunteer and/or call the corporations you buy products from to let them know this is important to you. In the meantime we advise everyone to be vigilant, as there are products in the marketplace that are labelled vegan and are not vegan certifiable. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us.