UK: study found animal-derived ingredients in vegan foods, triggering allergy fears

A recent investigation conducted in the UK has revealed that over a third of foods labeled as "vegan" actually contain traces of animal products, such as egg or milk, causing alarm among experts about potential allergic reactions. This has led to calls for legal safeguards against deceptive food labeling.    

Hampshire and Kent Scientific Services tested 61 items labeled as vegan or plant-based, and found that 39% contained egg or dairy. Of these products, 90% (55) had labeling inaccuracies related to dairy traces, nutritional details, or allergen warnings.    

Of the 55 unsatisfactory samples, 49% (27) were connected to labeling discrepancies, including portion size and allergen information, with some lacking warnings. Additionally, 39 nutritional errors were found, averaging at least one per sample.    

Currently, UK food labeling regulations require manufacturers to clearly state if 14 known allergens are ingredients (e.g. emphasizing their presence through bold font). However, the study found this was not always observed in the analyzed products.    

Experts say the lack of a legal definition for "vegan" food allows companies to mislabel products containing animal ingredients. This poses risks for those with food allergies and has prompted demands for clearer legal guidelines regarding vegan or plant-based food labeling. The lack of a threshold requirement for animal-derived products in the UK and the EU further complicates the issue.    

A survey by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) found that 76% of participants believe "vegan" products contain no animal ingredients. However, there are no legal guarantees for vegan labeling accuracy in the UK or EU. This is concerning since 84.6% of milk allergy sufferers consider vegan foods safe.    

The CTSI is pushing for stricter regulations to hold food manufacturers and restaurants responsible for severe allergic reactions resulting from mislabeled items.      

While most products analyzed were labeled as vegan, some were described as plant-based. However, "plant-based" does not necessarily mean free from animal products.
Half of the survey respondents incorrectly believed that plant-based and vegan referred to the same thing, leading to potential confusion for allergy sufferers.    

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs stresses the need for precise food labeling to maintain consumer trust. Though highlighting allergens in ingredients lists is mandatory, the study found exceptions. To tackle these issues, regulatory changes are necessary to protect consumers and ensure vegan labeling is reliable and accurate.