Regulatory Considerations For Vegan Or Vegetarian Food Offerings

The vegan or vegetarian food diet is enjoying considerable sway in the public’s minds as environmental concerns about meat consumption impinge on our conscious. It is worth noting the current situation of regulations particularly in the European Union and probably for the UK when it leaves this body.


When it comes to labelling a food for vegans and vegetarians it’s worth noting from the outset that there are no legal definitions in EU regulatory law it seems for vegetarian or vegan. That may seem odd given that we all know what anybody adopting either of these food lifestyles for want of a better word is following and what is being eaten. At the moment businesses and food service companies are using their own definitions as they seem fit and hoping if not expecting the consumer to understand the true meanings of these ‘V’ words.

A legally binding definition is a useful device for anyone involved in regulatory circles. The absence of a definition for vegetarian and vegan in the food labeling sense is seen as an issue now by both the USA Food & Drug Administration  (FDA) and the European Union . For example:-

  • As a consumer you may be allergic to diary ingredients such as egg and/or milk. It could be the case that a product which is labelled as vegan is not necessarily safe  because these allergens can of course persist in such foods through cross-contamination and the use of different production lines.
  • The FDA is concerned that labeling plant based products as milk alternatives could mislead the consumer. They may believe erroneously that they have the same nutritional benefits as a diary product which is clearly not true.
  • The EU has decided through the European Court of Justice that as of June 2017, plant-based foods cannot now be given names such as ‘yoghurt’, ‘milk’, ‘butter’ or ‘cream’.

Voluntary Claims

Given no legal definition exists for vegan or vegetarian, these two terms are recognised as voluntary claims. In accordance with EU regulations on the provision of food information to consumers 1169/2011 Artcile 36.2, the information provided in a label on a voluntary basis has to meet certain requirements. These are:-

 -it shall not mislead the consumer as referred to in Article 7
– it shall not be ambiguous or confusing for the consumer,
– it shall, where appropriate, be based on relevant scientific data

The year 2019 will see the European Commission begin a process for establishing a legal definition of vegan and vegetarian food. This should ensure better definitions for businesses developing menus or product development. 


The Vegetarian Society allows its trademark for vegetarian food to be used if it meets five criteria:-

  • Free from any ingredient resulting from slaughter
  • Only free-range eggs are used
  • No cross-contamination during production
  • GMO-free
  • No animal testing carried out or commissioned

It will allow it’s own vegan approved logo to be used if the following is met instead:-

  • Free from animal-derived ingredients
  • No cross-contamination during production
  • GMO-free
  • No animal testing carried out or commissioned

The Vegan Society has its trademark which is only used when these criteria are met:-

  • The manufacture and/or development of the product, and where applicable its ingredients, must not involve, or have involved:
    •the use of any animal product, by-product or derivative.
    •testing of any sort on animals
    •contain any GMOs derived from animal genes or animal-derived substances

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