Defining a product as vegan is more complex than many think, but new industry guidelines aim to help retailers assure consumers
Industry body the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has published new guidelines to help its members identify if a product is vegan or not.
Veganism is a growing trend in the UK, with the number of vegans doubling between 2015 and 2019, the BRC said. The body added that even those who do not identify as vegan often seek vegan food and clothing products for a range of reasons. This week the Veganuary group reported that record numbers pledged to maintain a plant-based diet last month, with the total number registering for the campaign rose to 400,000, up from 250,000 last year.
However, the organisation last week warned that, in order to provide customers with assurances that a product was accurately labelled as vegan, retailers need to ask more questions of suppliers than ever before. And in order to help retailers and brands identify the right information with which to assure customers, the group has published a new Voluntary Guideline on Veganism in Fashion.
The best practice guide provides a sequence of steps and questions for retailers and suppliers to ensure that materials are genuinely vegan. It also includes a comprehensive list of all animal derived fibres and materials, which goes into greater depth than retailers currently have.
Full veganism would not only rule out using leather and wool, but also many glues, dyes, and traces of its use in more hidden elements, it explained. Retailers need to go back to their suppliers and ask the right questions about the raw material ingredients in order verify them individually, it advised.
The BRC stressed that retailers should not claim the product is sustainable simply because it is vegan.
"'Vegan' relates to the absence of animal-derived materials, whereas 'sustainable' will mean different things depending on the issue analysed, including embedded water, carbon footprint, and more," the guidelines said.
Vegan labelled products should also offer consumers with a clear alternative to products that are traditionally made using animal-derived materials or ingredients, it added. As such, a cotton t-shirt should not be branded as vegan as it is traditionally made from cotton and should be expected to be vegan as standard, it said.
The BRC added that there was currently no test to definitively confirm the presence of animal DNA in products that would further support supply chain transparency, but advised there were steps companies could take to reasonably ensure vegan products are as advertised.
The move comes amidst warnings from some legal experts that companies and employers could face some legal risks if they do not account for employees and customers ethical veganism. Last year a judge ruled in an employment tribunal that ethical veganism does amount to a philosophical belief, like a religion, that is protected by law.
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