Consumer confidence may be compromised by confusing labelling and evasive classification guidelines
Food labelling is currently governed by EU labelling law, but also needs to fit with the international standards set by the FAO/WHO whose basic tenet for food labelling is that it must avoid misleading. According to EU food labelling specialist, Stephen Pugh, this is generally straightforward – but in the case of any food labelled as suitable for vegetarians or vegans it must be appropriate for both groups, leading to some confusing issues.
The principle challenge surrounds the scope of the diets, with preference on how to practice vegetarianism and veganism specific to each person. This is encapsulated by Stephen Pugh, who states that “issues around what constitutes a vegetarian diet depend on the individual – some consider eggs as unsuitable whilst others draw the line at fungi.
Consumers needs to be reassured that products labelled as vegetarian should not contain any meat-derived ingredients and that the information on the label must ensure sufficient information to enable them to make an informed choice.
The problem for vegan labelling arises from hidden ingredients. Unless a pre-packaged food is specifically labelled as being suitable for vegans, its suitability would need to be investigated”.
Confidence in food labelling has subsequently come under scrutiny, with due acknowledgement of vegetarian and vegan dietary requirements now being recognised. As Stephen Pugh concludes: “If you are responsible for vegetarian and vegan labelling, the message is that consumers must have complete confidence in your labels, so make sure you label correctly to provide the full confidence consumers need and want – and no shortcuts!”