Imagine this: It’s a Saturday morning and I’ve lovingly made a nutritious breakfast of scrambled eggs on wholemeal toast for my daughter before she heads off out to play in a footy match. I then put away and clean up everything ready for my two friends Amanda and Tania, who are joining me for brunch. Now, my friend Amanda is vegan and so I have opted to make us all a vegan fry-up of hash browns, mushrooms, tomatoes, scrambled tofu and baked beans.
I then remember that Tania has severe egg and milk allergies so although she can still enjoy my vegan fry-up – how do I know that absolutely all traces of egg and milk have been removed from my kitchen since I made my daughters scrambled egg this morning?? The answer is…I don’t!
And there you have it! Now, as the Vegan Society explains “Products suitable for vegans may not be suitable for people with allergies. Vegans avoid exploitation of non-human animals, whereas people with allergies need products that do not contain the allergens that affect them. These are separate issues.”
Just in the same way that companies assess whether their products may contain major allergens I had to decide whether I thought Tania would be safe eating my vegan fry-up in the same kitchen where I had previously made scrambled eggs. If there is a risk, the label carries a ‘may also contain’ warning.
So why did M&S come under so much fire with the launch of their new plant kitchen range?
The Vegan Society states it is “not against foods labelled as vegan also carrying a ‘may contain warning about animal allergens”, and an M&S spokesperson quite rightly pointed out that “vegan products may not be suitable for people with severe allergies because allergens may be present in the environment in which they are made. This is clearly flagged on the packaging as a steer to those who need it.” However, many disagree and feel that it is misleading to state something is vegan whilst also stating that it may contain small amounts of dairy products.
The food industry must adhere to strict rules concerning allergen labelling, which is heavily regulated, yet the term ‘vegan’ is only used by industry voluntarily so, how can it be used accurately when no legal definition exists? (Note: the EU Commission announced it would begin the process to establish a legal definition this year, but this will not automatically apply to the UK post-Brexit). In the meantime, there needs to be more education for consumers to understand that “vegan” does not automatically mean “free from” and as always, it pays to read the label every time!
AB Food Nutrition works with manufacturers and caterers to provide allergen information to consumers on labels, menus and websites. We can work with you to implement procedures for updating and signing off allergen information. Contact Anne for further information about our cost-effective consultancy services.