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A recent study has discovered that over a third of foods labeled as vegan contain traces of animal products, posing potential risks for consumers with severe allergies and prompting calls for legal protection. Forensic scientists examining 61 products marked as vegan or plant-based found that 24 (39%) contained egg or dairy, including dairy and meat alternatives. Additionally, 90% of the products were deemed unsatisfactory due to traces of dairy or inaccuracies in labeling and nutritional information.

The lack of a legal definition for vegan food allows unethical food businesses to exploit consumers, leading trading standards bosses to advocate for clearer regulations. Consumers with allergies to animal-derived products, such as milk and eggs, face the potential for disastrous consequences due to the ambiguity surrounding vegan labeling. The survey of 2,000 people conducted by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) revealed that 76% believed vegan-labeled products to be free from animal ingredients.

The absence of legal requirements for vegan food labeling enables companies to market products as vegan even if they contain dairy or eggs. Unlike the threshold requirement for trace amounts of gluten, there is currently no similar regulation for animal-derived products in the UK or the EU. With 1.5% of the population being vegan and one in six individuals having milk or shellfish allergies, the CTSI emphasizes the urgent need for greater clarity and protection for consumers.

The tragic consequences of undisclosed allergens were highlighted in the case of Celia Marsh, who died after consuming a wrap from Pret a Manger labeled as vegan but contaminated with milk protein. The CTSI is calling for stricter regulations to hold food manufacturers and restaurants accountable for misleading labeling that leads to extreme reactions. As plant-based and vegan diets gain popularity, the CTSI has observed an increase in complaints and incidents where consumers feel deceived and those with animal-derived allergies mistakenly assume vegan-labeled foods are safe.

The study's findings underscore the importance of accurate food labeling and the potential risks faced by individuals with allergies or ethical concerns. To ensure consumer safety and prevent emotional distress, improvements in food labeling regulations are necessary. Heightened awareness among consumers regarding ingredients to watch out for, such as casein, lactose, whey, collagen, lard, or tallow, is crucial when selecting products labeled as plant-based or vegan. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs emphasizes the need for clear ingredient labeling to ensure consumer confidence and safety in food products.