Most vegetarians and vegans will be familiar with squinting at the backs of labels to try and determine whether the product is okay for them to eat. For sufferers of allergies such as wheat, peanuts and dairy, the answer is usually printed in bold with the ingredients list. Vegans and vegetarians however are not so lucky. When it come to vegetarian food labels, there is currently no legal requirement in New Zealand for food producers to label their food as either safe or unsafe for vegetarians to eat. The issue was brought up by MPs during the introduction of the new Food Bill, asking to amend the bill so that all products must be noted either way on the packet. However as the bill is yet to pass, and will be heavily edited before it does, there is still no solid legal basis for vegetarian/non-vegetarian labeling yet.
Vegetarian Food Label Claims
You may have noticed however a number of products that label themselves vegetarian friendly anyway. From products on supermarket shelves to café items, many businesses are eager to include vegetarian foods – but just how legitimate are these claims? There are two kinds of labels, with two very different guidelines.
Self-imposed labels are simply placed on by the producer or seller of the item. The product is to the best of their knowledge vegetarian, and if they claim that it is when it isn’t, they are able to be charged under the Fair Trading Act 1986. Of course, this puts the responsibility to uphold standards and check that it is truly vegetarian directly onto the consumer rather than the producer, which is not ideal. There is no internal regulation particularly for café or stall-sold items. Of course, much of the time these labels will be fair and correct because the sellers genuinely want to produce vegetarian products or fear prosecution, but simply having ‘Safe For Vegetarians’ on the packaging is by no means a complete guarantee that it is.
Vegetarian Society Approval
For genuine external regulation, the Vegetarian Society of New Zealand has created its own seal of approval. Companies can apply to have the ‘V’ logo on their vegetarian food packaging, but they will need to prove to the Society that their product really is vegetarian in order to do so. The logo can only appear on products that have been accepted into the Product Acceptance Programme, which includes the following limitations:
- No animal flesh, bone, fish, or stock.
- No animal fats, fish oil or slaughterhouse by-products used in frying.
- No gelatine, aspic or gelatine-based crystals.
- No ingredients derived from slaughterhouse by-products.
- No battery hen produced eggs.
- No royal jelly.
- No products that have been tested on animals or genetically modified.
This strict set of guidelines ensures that when you find the ‘V’ label, you can be absolutely sure the product is safe for vegetarians in terms of not just ingredients but whole animal wellbeing. It’s especially useful when looking for cheese and yoghurts, as the Acceptance Programme covers these quite strictly as well. It also guards against cross-contamination from non-vegetarian products and production. Because the producers must apply to be allowed to use this label, the responsibility is lifted from the consumer and you can shop safely.
The 2012 Food Bill
The 2012 Food Bill is expected to make things easier for vegetarians, however as of October 2012 it is yet to pass and even then it will take some time for any changes to be felt. In the mean time, trust cautiously in self-imposed ‘Suitable For Vegetarians’ labels, as while they are legally obligated to tell the truth there is no regulation to ensure this is so. If in doubt, look for the ‘V’ symbol instead to ensure what you are eating is completely safe and acceptable.
Do you have available a list of products that currently carry the V logo? I want to write to companies and encourage them to get the logo onto their vegan products.
It’s a bit disappointing that there’s no internal regulation for claiming vegetarian-friendly status. I usually just stick to the brands that have gone to the effort of getting the Vegetarian Society approval. Hopefully this will send the message to producers that it’s worth their while to do so.