A new study publicised in June 2023 in England has found that more than a third of processed foods labelled as vegan analysed by scientists from Hampshire and Kent Scientific Services contained animal products. Inspectors found 24 (39%) out of 61 products marked as vegan contained egg or dairy. However, despite this has been reported in the news as “One in three UK vegan products found to contain milk or egg”, it turns out that the study was not from a significant random sample of UK products, and the products they analysed were highly processed foods sold in non-vegan establishments. They included 13 dairy alternatives, 48 meat alternatives, chocolate truffles, pizza, burgers, muffins, and wraps.

John Herriman, the chief executive of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI), said: “The lack of legal definition could be exploited by unethical food businesses claiming foods are as vegan, when in fact they contain animal-derived products. Perhaps of greater concern is that this ambiguity can have disastrous and sometimes tragic consequences for those with allergies to animal-derived products, like milk and eggs. We are aware that people have sadly lost their lives because of this and are therefore calling for more clarity on what can and can’t legally be described as vegan and plant-based food.”

Maisie Stedman, from the Vegan Society, said, “If the labelling is misleading, the consumer can complain to the trading standards, who would usually take the definitions of the Vegetarian Society and the Vegan Society and look to see if it meets those standards. If misleading advertising caused a consumer to purchase something they otherwise wouldn’t have, they can contact the Citizens Advice Bureau who will look at this in terms of consumer rights law. Misleading labelling can cause emotional stress for those who choose to avoid animal products for ethical reasons, as well as posing a threat to those with intolerances and allergies.”

It seems that the safest option for UK vegans is to rely on lesser processed foods made by vegan companies and sold in vegan establishments, preferably certified as vegan by accredited organisations, such as the Vega Society. 

Jordi Casamitjana
“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.