5. There are no legal definitions of the terms 'vegetarian' or 'vegan'.
Trade Descriptions Act 1968
6. Claims such as, 'suitable for vegetarians' or 'suitable for vegans' are subject to the general controls in sections 1 to 4 of the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 (prohibition of false or misleading trade descriptions).
Food Safety Act 1990
7. Claims such as, 'suitable for vegetarians' or 'suitable for vegans' are subject to the general controls in sections 14 and 15 of the of Food Safety Act 1990 (prohibition on selling food not of the nature, substance or quality demanded and falsely describing or presenting food). The 1990 Act extends to Great Britain. Parallel legislation in Northern Ireland is the Food Safety (Northern Ireland) Order 1991.
Article 16 of EC Regulation 178/2002
8. Article 16 of EC Regulation 178/2002 prohibits labelling or other presentation, which misleads consumers. This is enforced by means of the General Food Regulations 2004 in Great Britain and the General Food Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2004 in Northern Ireland.
Use of the ingredients list
9. The terms ‘vegetarian’ and ‘vegan’ in food labelling are used voluntarily by industry. Where these terms are absent, consumers rely on the list of ingredients.
10. The Food Labelling Regulations 1996 (as amended) require that ingredients be listed in descending order of weight. There are certain ingredients, details of which are given in Regulation 17, which need not be named. The 1996 Regulations extend to Great Britain; parallel legislation in Northern Ireland is the Food Labelling Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1996.
11. The Food Labelling (Amendment) (England) (No.2) Regulations
2004 and similar provisions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland removed a previous exemption from ingredient listing for compound ingredients that made up less than 25% of the final product. All ingredients of compound ingredients used in another product (e.g. sponge fingers in a trifle) are required to be listed except for very limited exemptions for some compound ingredients (Regulation 7(b) and (c)).
The exemptions are:
- Where the composition of the compound ingredient is defined in EU law (e.g. jam and chocolate), the ingredients need not be listed.
- Where the compound ingredient is a food for which an ingredient list is not required, the ingredients need not be listed.
- A mixture of herbs or spices or both need not be listed individually.
- Ingredients constituting less than 2% of the finished product may be listed in a different order after the other ingredients.
- The presence of similar or mutually substitutable ingredients could be indicated by use of "contains....and/or..." in certain circumstances.
- These exemptions do not override the need to label allergenic ingredients and only apply where an ingredient makes up less than 2% of the final product.
12. The Food Labelling (Amendment) (England) (No.2) Regulations 2004 and similar provisions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland require (from 26 November 2005) foods to be labelled with an indication of the presence of 12 specific ingredients (or their derivatives) that are known to cause allergies and intolerances. There are provisional exemptions to this where derived products are no longer allergenic. Those exemptions of interest to vegetarian and vegan consumers are:
In alcoholic drinks
- Lysozym (produced from egg) used in wine
- Albumin (produced from egg) used as a fining agent in wine and cider
- Fish gelatine and isinglass used as fining agents in beer, cider and wine
- Whey (from milk) used in distillates for spirits
- Milk (casein) products used as fining agents in cider and wine.
- Apart from the two exemptions above that relate to egg, the presence of eggs must always be labelled on pre-packed foods.
In other foods
- Fish gelatine used as a carrier for vitamin or carotenoid preparations, and flavours
- Lactitol (from milk) (a sweetener)