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What Makes a Food Product Vegan?

What Makes a Food Product Vegan?

The Vegan Society, which coined the term ‘vegan’ in 1944, established the Vegan Trademark in 1990 (Photo courtesy of the Vegan Society).

When is vegan not actually vegan? The answer is subjective and has implications for what are purported to be vegan products. While self-identified vegans don’t all share the same conception of the term, most generally agree that nobody can be 100 percent vegan. Why?

Most vegans recognize that every so-called vegan activity, from eating only a plant-based diet to operating an animal sanctuary, is done at the expense of animals. For example, any use of metal, such as a spoon or farm implement, is made possible only through the displacement (at least) of animals and the destruction of their habitat upon which are built mines, factories, towns and other infrastructure.


Related: Survey: Gen Z’ers Want to Eat More Plant-Based and Vegan Foods


Consequently, vegans also generally agree on a definition of veganism such as this one used by the Vegan Society: veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose.

The Vegan Society adds that vegans also avoid “animal-derived materials, products tested on animals and places that use animals for entertainment.”

The word vegan was initially defined as a diet free of animal-based foods (such as meat, dairy products, eggs and honey.) Nowadays, the word’s meaning is commonly extended to refer to non-food products—such as clothing, cosmetics, and medicine—that are made without animal-derived substances. Vegans also typically object to exploitative uses of animals, from animal testing to rodeos to zoos and dolphin shows.

Products, then, can be said to be vegan if they exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation and cruelty. As we know, many, and increasingly more, products manage to do that.  However, many ventures that are claimed to be vegan involve the exploitation of non-human animals. Some ‘vegan’ food products are tested on animals in order to obtain generally recognized as safe (GRAS) accreditation.

A longstanding problem remains: how does one know whether a product is vegan? Fortunately, a solution exists: the Vegan Trademark. Donald Watson, a founding member of the Vegan Society, coined the term ‘vegan’ in 1944 and the society established the Vegan Trademark in 1990. Since then, over 44,000 products around the world have been identified with the Vegan Trademark.

Vegans know to look for the Vegan Trademark or some other vegan accreditation symbol – there are several, including the letter ‘V’ in a circle or heart,  a leaf plant and the color green – when they shop.

Companies looking to attain vegan accreditation must pay a fee, similar to those seeking a non-GMO certified label. According to vegan.org, “The licensing fee is assessed by the company’s annual revenue (not based on the vegan product or brand) and is due before permission is granted to use the “Certified Vegan” logo.