Irish consumers warned of possible animal products in vegan-declared foods
Consumers often assume that a food declared as "vegan" contains no ingredients of animal origin, but this isn’t always the case.
Irish consumers who are allergic to or intolerant of animal-derived food have been warned about the dangers of consuming products described as “vegan” in the belief they are completely free of animal ingredients.
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has warned consumers who are allergic to animal-derived food - egg, milk, fish, molluscs and crustaceans – that low-level accidental cross-contamination from animal-based allergens can occur during the food production process.
Furthermore, the FSAI warned, the term “vegan” is not defined in EU or Irish food law and as such, there are no limits set out in food law about the proportion of animal-derived ingredients permitted in such food.
As a result, the FSAI is urging food businesses that make vegan-labelled food to double their efforts to ensure that their production and packaging processes are sufficient to minimise the risk of cross-contamination with animal-derived ingredients.
Research suggests that there has been an increasing trend in people moving towards plant-based diets in recent years, including amongst people who consider themselves as “dietary vegans” – those who are vegan for food consumption only.
According to the FSAI, in 2018, 4.1% of Irish adults considered themselves as dietary vegans, accounting for over 146,000 adults. Additionally, 4.3% of Irish adults described themselves as vegetarians, meaning they do not consume meat products, but they can still consume other ingredients derived from animals, like egg and dairy products.
There has been a noticeable increase in foods sold which are marketed as vegan to cater for the rising demand, but Dr Pamela Byrne, Chief Executive of the FSAI, says the rise in availability of these products and the popularity of plant-based foods in our diets does not come without health risks.
“Most people who follow dietary vegan or plant-based diets do not have allergies to animal-derived products, but for those who do, accidental cross-contamination of the foods labelled as vegan could have very serious health consequences,” says Byrne.
“Consumers who are allergic to or intolerant of egg, milk, fish, molluscs or crustaceans need to be alert to the possibility that a food declared as “vegan” may contain small amounts of these animal-derived ingredients and therefore, they are not always safe for them to eat.”
“The five animal-derived food allergens must be declared at all times when used as ingredients to produce food. However, if a food is accidentally cross-contaminated, this will not be the case,” Byrne adds.
“Consumers who have an allergy or intolerance to an animal-derived food may be drawn to buying foods declared as vegan thinking that they are safe to eat. Despite the best hygiene controls being applied correctly, cross contamination of a vegan food with low levels of animal-derived ingredients is always a possibility.
“Once the legal status of vegan-labelled foods is fully addressed at EU level, it will be clearer as to what levels of animal-derived ingredients will be tolerated in foods calling themselves vegan.
“Only when such guidelines are available will susceptible consumers be better equipped to judge for themselves whether or not they can safely consume vegan foods.”
More information on food legislation in Ireland is available on the FSAI website here.