‘Vote’ on ‘Vegan’ / ‘Vegetarian’

You have until 10pm tomorrow to have your say on how the country is governed.

And you have until 5pm Friday to have your say on how vegan and vegetarian labelling guidance is changed – or not – to reflect allergy considerations.

I have been pretty surprised that this issue has received relatively little attention, given that it affects vegetarians, vegans, those with milk, egg or fish allergies, lactose intolerants, and perhaps others, such as those following particular diets for religious reasons.

In a nutshell, DEFRA are considering relaxing the guidance on the use of the terms ‘vegan’ and ‘vegetarian’ on food labelling. Manufacturers labelling their foods ‘vegan’ or ‘vegetarian’ should be able to demonstrate that their products have not been contaminated by non-vegan or non-vegetarian ingredients, according to guidance. To do otherwise is misleading, and to mislead is illegal.

But the guidance has been in place for almost a decade, and has been largely ignored, unenforced and unpoliced. The Vegan Society doesn’t support it, and certainly doesn’t apply it to their trademarked products. Sean of the popular Fat Gay Vegan blog also has just declared his backing for a relaxation of the guidance.

Other voices – notably Adrian Ling’s, of Plamil Foods – disagree strongly, and believe that the guidance and rules should remain – and be enforced.

I lean towards supporting Ling’s position. I’m neither vegan nor food sensitive, but for me, to have a situation where a ‘vegan’ food can carry a ‘may contain dairy’ warning is counter-intuitive. For me, allergy considerations trump vegan considerations – we’re talking lives, remember – and many with milk allergies consider ‘vegan’ food to be safe for them.

I don’t believe, as some vegans have argued, that vegan foods will stop being produced by manufacturers if we stick to and enforce this guidance. What will happen instead is that vegans will have to scrutinise labels more closely to check that the foods satisfy their requirements. This is something those with food allergies, for whom an error can have far more serious consequences, have to do as a matter of course.

Does all this boil down to an argument between who should do a bit more label reading than they may already do? Who better deserves to be reassured by a label of ‘vegan’ – vegans or those with food allergies?

I won’t tell you how to ‘vote’ but I would urge those with an interest in these subjects to have their say. The major share of my sympathies – if you can call them that – lie with the food sensitive community, as my work is mainly aimed at them, and so my views are formulated on that basis, but bear in mind that I am not personally affected by the outcome. You, reader, may well be. Do find out what it means, if you’re unsure.

To read more, I blogged on this some weeks ago. Plamil Foods’ plea can be read here.

For the opposite viewpoint, see the FGV Blog here. I also wrote a piece for Foods Matter, explaining the Vegan Society position, here.

To tell DEFRA what you think, click here or email labelling@defra.gsi.gov.uk


  1. fatgayvegan

    Many people don't understand what 'vegan' means. It is not a safety net for people with allergies. It is a label for compassionate shoppers. We need clear distinction between the two concepts. They can't and shouldn't be lumped together.

  2. Alex G

    But some vegans disagree – so who gets the final say on a word's definition? Fact is, people with allergies are taking a vegan label to mean what the FSA guidance presently says it should mean on labelling – so who is right or wrong? Wherever this leads, it would be nice to see some of that compassion extended towards the food allergic community, which I've yet to see. No need for lumping together – but there are surely overlaps between the two concepts that surely can't be ignored?


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