The UK chain supermarket Tesco has announced it is “seeking alternatives” after it was revealed that a lot of the fruit it sells is not suitable for vegans. It is a common practice in the UK — and many other countries — to sell fruit that has been made shiner with the help of exploited insects. In particular, beeswax is commonly used with citrus fruits, and shellac, a resin secreted by the lac bug, is commonly used in apples, pears, and other fruit. These substances would render the fruit not suitable for vegans, as these insects would suffer when exploited this way.
Shellac is secreted by the female lac bug (Kerria lacca), a small true bug who lives in India and Thailand. It secretes a tunnel-like tube as she traverses the branches of a tree. This tube is scraped up by humans to make the wax and she is killed in the process (up to 300,000 females may die to produce a kilogram of shellac).
This marketing practice (as it is a method to attract more sales) is by no means exclusive to Tesco, as all other supermarkets and small grocery shops use these animal products to sell more fruit, but what has been unusual is the statement from the big supermarket giant to the Retail Gazette in which Tesco said it is working with suppliers to come up with an alternative. Whether this is true, or it is just a PR response to the backlash when some vegans publicly complained — although this is not a new phenomenon but somehow it made it to the press now — only time will tell. Perhaps other supermarkets, always competing with Tesco, may beat it to it and find vegan-friendly fruit shining substances sooner. Organic fruit is always more likely to be just fruit with no insects (except the uncommon accidental worm), but vegans should treat any over-shiny items with suspicion.