Suitable for vegans?
When deciding to adopt a vegan eating regime it can be difficult to know whether a product really does meet the ‘suitable for vegans’ criteria. This is especially so in France. You can read the label, but this may not always be easy if you’re a newcomer, as the label will invariably be in French. In the UK, many branded products sport the Vegetarian Society’s ‘Seed’ symbol, a legally registered trademark for vegetarian accreditation and most supermarkets will label their own-brand products as suitable for vegetarians, or vegans. Indeed, the likes of Tesco and Sainsbury’s have their own range of vegetarian foods. Here in France there are no such easy solutions to labelling. Of course, most products have a list of ingredients and the EU recommended nutritional information, but you can often buy a pack of soya végétal burgers only to find some egg or dairy products lurking in the filling. Reading the labels is so time consuming, and relies on an in-depth knowledge of the language and having reading glasses handy!
There is no EU-wide legal definition of the terms vegetarian or vegan, nor a compulsory labelling requirement. In the UK, the Food Standards Agency have published guidance about labelling which establishes criteria for information which should be provided to consumers. This guidance was produced in conjunction with the UK Vegetarian Society. Despite the lack of an agreed definition there is a move within the EU for a formal recognition of the terms. EU regulation 1169/2011 EU Food Information Regulation requires the European Commission to define the requirements of vegetarian and vegan food, but this has not been achieved due to the lack of an EU-wide consensus. Not surprisingly, this initiative is supported by Germany, where 10% of the population is vegetarian/vegan.
With the increasing demand for vegan food the good news is that within the EU, a European Citizen’s initiative was launched in November 2018 when the European Commission decided to register a demand for mandatory labelling of no-vegetarian/vegetarian/vegan food.
The EU vegetarian label
There is no single recognised label or mark, in France, that denotes a product is suitable for vegetarian or vegan diets and no compulsory v-labelling. In fact, many products are vegan, but presumably the manufacturers see no marketing benefit in labelling them as such. Elsewhere in Europe you may come across the smart green and yellow ‘V label’ on vegetarian and vegan food packaging.
The European Vegetarian Union is a voluntary organisation based in Switzerland with members from all 28 EU countries. It has prescribed criteria for labelling as either vegetarian or vegan and devised this voluntary labelling scheme. Some 800 food producers across the EU use this label, including giants such as Aldi, Alpro and Unilever. Increasingly, this label is appearing in France and can be spotted on both brand and supermarket own-brand products. Watch out for the lettering below the V though, as the label is applied to both vegetarian (may contain eggs/dairy) and vegan products, so check for ‘vegetarian’ or ‘vegane’ below the V.
The Vegan Society
Although a UK-based organisation, the Vegan Society’s reach is long. Its registered trademark with the distinctive sunflower is quite common on vegan products across Europe, especially those produced by multinational brands.
French vegan certification
Just introduced, EVE VEGAN : Expertise Vegane Europe, is French-based startup based in Chartes. Launched in 2017, it offers a certification service with its green and white EVE VEGAN logo.
Products awarded the label range from vegan croissants and ice cream to wine, beer, handbags and cosmetics. I must confess that I haven’t yet seen the label, but I’ll be on the look-out for it now.
These are the three main vegan symbols to look out for, although individual manufacturers and brands may label a product as ‘végetal’ or vegan, or stylised versions of their own vegan leaf or symbol.
Cosmetics products, in particular, often bear cruelty-free logos. Whilst this is a sign that there has been no animal testing in their manufacture, it is not a 100% guarantee that the product does not contain products of animal origin and further research may be needed. The most common logos I’ve encountered in France are the Leaping Bunny and One Voice logos. I tend to avoid products that only bear these labels unless they also have some type of vegan labelling, or my research has confirmed that the company do not test animals. I’ll be providing more information about these as my research continues, so check out the posts under ‘non-food items’ or search the site for a specific product.
Other than vegan labelling, there are a number of marketing labels that you may come across, including the bio or organic certification. These do not guarantee that the products are vegan or vegetarian.
The AB bio-approved label is granted by the French Ministry of Agriculture to demonstrate a product is either 100% bio or contains 95% bio ingredients. The ‘eurofeuille’ leaf with EU stars is the EU-wide label used to denote bio products derived from EU countries. Labelling may contain either or both of these marks.
Label Rouge ‘R’ is a quality assurance label, confirming the products comply with certain specific standards as defined by Law No. 2006-11 (5 January 2006). It is not an indication that the products are organic.
Bleu-Blanc-Coeur is an association of farmers, producers, scientists and educators founded to promote health and good food, according to a charter. It is essentially a marketing tool and does not guarantee organic or vegan.
AOC/AOP labels: appellation d’origine contrôlée and/or protegée is a certification granted to certain French wines, cheeses, butters, and other agricultural products, based on geographical location and the concept of terroir which is important in French culture.