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The difference between Vegan and Free From

Having just returned from the Allergy & Free From and Just V show at the weekend, I was impressed by the wealth of fantastic items available. I thought it was a really good thing that the Vegan and Allergy Free products were kept in separate parts of the venue to avoid confusion and cater for the specific dietary needs and choices of individuals.

I noticed some confusion between the Vegan and Free From back at the hotel and in many cafes. Although they were very accommodating and helpful, it seems it's not always clearly understood. This could be potentially dangerous for people with Allergies. For example I asked for the Vegan offering at breakfast time at our hotel and they were keen to be very accommodating. However I was offered a gluten free option throughout my stay, sometimes as a replacement for vegan alternatives. Great for coeliacs, but as a vegan I wasn't keen to consume ham or salmon sandwiches! At another venue I ordered the vegan buffet but was given a jug of cows milk with my tea. Like many of you I have several members of the family with allergies and also I am vegan. Although I was of course grateful for the choices offered to me it also highlighted the confusion that so frequently occurs between various dietary needs and choices. As consumers we therefore need to be vigilant!  Food producers even more so.

I spoke to Allergy UK and also looked at the guidelines offered by The Vegan Society and here is a rundown showing the differences between Vegan and Free From. 

The Vegan Society explain the differences here: 

Products suitable for vegans may not be suitable for people with allergies. Vegans avoid exploitation of animals, whereas people with allergies need products that do not contain the allergens that affect them. These are separate issues.  

Certain allergens must be highlighted within ingredient lists. These include some animal allergens, namely shellfish, fish, milk, eggs and molluscs. Companies must work out if their products contain or may contain major allergens. If there is a risk, the label carries a ‘may contain’ warning.

It is therefore necessary for anyone following a vegan or free from diet to very carefully check the labelling. 

To be safe, the Food Standards Agency suggest that getting the labelling right is essential to ensure that food is safe for people living with food allergy or intolerances.

The state that a food product labelled as ‘suitable for vegans’ may not be appropriate for certain allergic consumers due to unintentional cross-contact with allergenic ingredients of animal origin. There is a risk to allergic consumers who treat ‘vegan’ claims and allergen absence claims as equivalent, and this has potential serious health implications. It is therefore important that allergic consumers do not automatically assume that products labelled as ‘vegan’ are suitable for them and are the same as those with an allergen absence claim. ‘Allergen’-Free & vegan are separate claims. Each communicates different information and are aimed at different consumer groups. Only ‘Allergen’-Free claims can be used as food safety information by consumers.

If it doesn’t say ‘Allergen’-Free, do not assume it is! Furthermore, it is not always fully understood that the term ‘dairy’ refers only to milk and milkbased products.

We take our responsibilities to our customers extremely seriously. Our chocolates are Vegan and proudly carry the Vegan Society logo. They are extremely thorough in their investigations to ensure every ingredient lives up to their standards. We are also very committed to our Free From customers and our chocolates are free from traces of dairy, gluten, wheat, nuts and peanuts to be as all inclusive as possible. We highlight our soya ingredient in BOLD (hopefully to be replaced as soon as we can)!! Many other companies offer excellent vegan and free from products. However if it is only labelled as one or the other, the recommendation is to check the label carefully before you consume!