Plant-based labels are changing

Plant-based labels are changing

Vegan Society of Canada News
Published January 21st 2021
Updated January 27th 2021

We haven’t used the term “plant-based” as a broad substitute for various concepts in veganism for a while. Instead, while we still use plant as an adjective, we use phrases like “food suitable for vegans” or “this food is vegan certifiable”. The reasons for this were various, and at the time more of a hypothesis of things to come than anything tangible. However, this year those things became a reality, and since it is spreading globally we thought it was time to share what is happening.

In 2019, a large packaged food manufacturer launched what they claimed to be a plant-based product containing animal products. It was consistent with our hypothesis of what plant-based was going to become. Fast forward to this year, and Unilever spinoff Upfield is pushing through a British standard defining the term plant-based consistent with such interpretation. The draft standard is titled “PAS 224:2020 Classification of plant-based foods—Code of practice.” The interesting part of this new draft standard is the following:

Should contain a maximum of 5% (w/w) of ingredients in the final product, that are animal-derived or are neither plant nor animal-derived (water, salt and salt substitutes are excluded).

This allows food products to be labelled “plant-based” that contain up to 5% animal ingredients. Later, various packaged food manufacturers and those with interests in furthering plant-based products formed a new alliance called the European Alliance for Plant-based Foods, which includes Nestle, Upfield, Beyond Meat, ProVeg, World Animal Protection and others as members, some of whom were trying to push for unacceptable products to be labelled as vegan in ISO standard ISO-23662.

However, this time we agree with them. The Vegan Society of Canada is against the exploitation of animals and this is inconsistent with products containing up to 5% animal ingredients. We strongly believe that organizations with a conflict of interest should avoid taking part in the process, but those who are interested in furthering this agenda should work together to better achieve their goals.

As a side note, it seems in its final form the standard PAS 224 has now changed to cover only the definition of “100% plant-based” and not the unqualified claim of “plant-based”. However, it seems to be only a matter of time until some standard organization somewhere else defines it in the matter initially proposed.

We hope all of this is a sign from industry and others that instead of trying to redefine veganism in a way that is unsuitable, as we have seen in ISO-23662, they have chosen to offer consumers more choices under various labels.

As we have said numerous times, there is no need for everything to be labelled vegan. We should make use of all the words we have and even create new ones if it helps consumers make informed choices. We understand the desire to connect with consumers who want to make an effort to change, but the way to do this is not to make unacceptable concessions in the vegan label, as we saw in ISO-23662, but to use alternative labels like plant-based, vegetarian, or flexitarian on items with animal ingredients. We must keep the highest requirements for a vegan label to achieve our vision in a timely manner.

As we have discussed before, the main reason for this is, as one of the most stringent certifications regarding ethical means of production, anyone whose “possible and practicable” would not be covered by our vegan standards would be left with no option at all. People whose “possible and practicable” would allow for lesser requirements than our standard can not only buy vegan certified products but also many other types of products under other labels to suit their interpretation. For this reason, this process must never be done at the certification level but be left to the individual.

If plant-based organizations work together to further a plant-based agenda, vegetarian organizations take care of vegetarianism and vegan organizations take care of veganism, and each make their position clear, consumers would have options and the necessary details to make informed decisions.

We are not aware of any products in Canada that contain up to 5% animal ingredients while being labelled plant-based. Nevertheless, we believe it is only a matter of time for it to become standard industry practice. From our discussion with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, we posit they will consider such labelling in Canada as misleading.

We know that some of you buy products that are labelled “plant-based” and that is why we wanted to inform you of those changes. We will not oppose those changes but instead will continue to oppose products that are fraudulently labelled.

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