The Vegetarian Society’s Vegan Approved trademark is licensed to products which meet certain criteria (* see postscript).
Those criteria include one that the product be “free from animal-derived ingredients” and another that it should have “no cross-contamination during production”.
So why do these Harvest Snaps carry the trademark — as well as a precautionary allergen labelling for milk just above it?
More notably: why is it also shown on Planted’s British Oat Drink, which carries an even more explicit deterrent for those with milk allergy?
Since September, I’ve been exchanging emails with the VS, trying to get answers to the questions these apparent discrepancies raise.
I’ve enjoyed little success.
Does the VS seek any evidence from brands to support a declaration of “no cross-contamination”, I wondered?
“We don’t ask for test results as they only offer an insight into the production environment at that particular time. We ask manufacturers to send us ingredient details and information about manufacturing / clean down processes to ensure they meet our standards”
I asked what these ‘standards’ were but was referred only to the Food & Drink Federation‘s guidance on Allergen-Free & Vegan Claims. Yet this guidance is for consumers and manufacturers — not issuers of trademarks — and it merely tells us what much of the allergy community already knows and grudgingly accepts — that any vegan claim or logo in itself does not imply ‘free from’ milk or egg.
I had assumed, as I told the VS, that the ‘no cross-contamination’ criterion meant the VS went one step further than that: that it did in this case imply free from milk and egg?
“Our Vegetarian Society Approved vegan trademark does indeed mean that it is egg and dairy free”
Huh? Well which is it? I pursued further clarification, in relation to the Planted British Oat Drink, which is clearly not milk free, pointing out the product was non-compliant with criteria. After some weeks, the response came yesterday.
“The simple answer is that our trademarks are not allergen trademarks”
And that was that.
Those who follow me on social media in particular may know I have regularly written that the Vegetarian Society’s Vegan Approved trademark implies milk and egg allergy safety, which I believed differentiated it from the Vegan Society’s.
I was wrong. As far as allergy goes, they are essentially equivalent. I will correct as many of those errors as I can find, and apologise for any false reassurance my statements have given.
As for the confused Vegetarian Society, perhaps someone else can seek a logical response from them regarding the reasons they license their Vegan Approved trademark to at least one product which does not meet one of its supposedly “strict” criteria. I have tried, and failed.
* Postscript, 18th June 2022
At the beginning of March, following further exchanges of emails, The Vegetarian Society modified the problematic criterion, adding “measures in place to avoid”, as shown below.
My view is that this is an improvement, but that it still doesn’t quite go far enough, as it could still be interpreted as the manufacturers of any product achieving VS ‘approval’ have succeeded in avoiding cross-contamination with those implemented measures, and yet this may not necessarily be true.
I think “Measures in place to minimise / reduce the risk of cross-contamination during production” might be a further improvement.
But I also wonder whether it’s worth having the criterion at all, if the ‘approved’ status is awarded to manufacturers who have tried to avoid cross-contamination, irrespective of whether they have succeeded or failed in doing so …
So right! What is the point of trademark if it does not indicate that its carrier has met certain well defined criteria and abides by certain standards. If the criteria are confused and self contradictory, as they appear to be in the VS, then the trademark is not only pointless but misleading.
It’s incomprehensible really. They’ve now added a line to their site alongside the criteria: “Please note: The Vegetarian Society Approved trademarks are not allergen labels and should not be used as such.” Yet they’re failing to see that allergy consumers take ‘no ingredients’ and ‘no cross-contamination’ as, essentially, ‘allergy safe’. Of course it’s going to mislead …