FAQ: How does vegan food certification really work?

In researching vegan certification, I went down a rabbit hole. I myself didn’t fully understand the chain of command in the system. Food safety is regulation and law, it must be followed. Food certification is totally voluntary. 

I also noticed that there are few resources spelling it all out in relatively simple language for people. I like to try and make clean and concise pages that are easy to navigate and understand. So…

HOW DOES VEGAN CERTIFICATION WORK?

 

Food certification in the US is a voluntary system where product sellers volunteer to go through a verification process to get certified. Well respected certification companies and NPO's will earn them trust with consumers, stores, and distributors.

This process is voluntary. Sellers pay certification companies to audit them and deem their products worthy of certification.

Sometimes people confuse certification with regulation though. Food safety regulation is a whole other issue. 

To understand vegan food certification better, let’s understand food safety in the US. There are three governmental organizations responsible for food safety. They each have different responsibilities:

  • Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is an agency of the United States Department of Agriculture, is the public health regulatory agency responsible for ensuring that United States' commercial supply of meat, poultry, and egg products is safe, wholesome, and correctly labeled and package
  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is charged with protecting consumers against impure, unsafe, and fraudulently labeled products. FDA, through its Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN), regulates foods other than the meat, poultry, and egg products regulated by FSIS. FDA is also responsible for the safety of drugs, medical devices, biologics, animal feed and drugs, cosmetics, and radiation emitting devices.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) leads federal efforts to gather data on foodborne illnesses, investigate foodborne illnesses and outbreaks, and monitor the effectiveness of prevention and control efforts in reducing foodborne illnesses. CDC also plays a key role in building state and local health department epidemiology, laboratory, and environmental health capacity to support foodborne disease surveillance and outbreak response.

And then there are others governmental organizations that assist in different parts of the food safety process:

  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) works for a cleaner, healthier environment. EPA's mission includes protecting public health and the environment from risks posed by pesticides and promoting safer means of pest management.
  • U.S. Department of Homeland Security FSIS works with agencies in the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that FSIS is able to respond quickly and effectively to an attack on the food supply, major disease outbreak, or other disaster affecting the national food infrastructure.
  • Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) primary role in the U.S. food safety network of agencies is to protect against plant and animal pests and diseases. APHIS also administers the Animal Welfare Act and carries out wildlife damage management activities.
  • Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) As the agency responsible for administering the nutrition assistance programs of USDA, the Food and Nutrition Service provides children and low-income people access to food, a healthful diet, and nutrition education. Food safety and security is an important aspect of the USDA nutrition assistance programs.
  • National Agricultural Library (NAL) is the U.S. center for the international agricultural information system, coordinating and sharing resources and enhancing global access to agricultural data.
  • National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) mission is to advance knowledge for agriculture, the environment, human health and well-being, and communities by supporting research, education, and extension programs in the Land-Grant University System and other partner organizations. (NIFA is the former Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES).)
  • Partnership for Food Safety Education (PFSE) The Partnership unites consumer groups, professional societies in food science, nutrition, and health; industry associations, and the U.S. government to educate the public about safe food handling and preparation. FSIS is a Federal government liaison to the Partnership.

In summary, the FSIS regulates animal products (meat, poultry, dairy). The FDA is responsible for regulating NEW products in food, drugs, medical devices, radiating-emitting devices, vaccines/blood/biologics, animal and veterinary, cosmetics,  and tobacco. The CDC studies and tries to prevent food diseases and outbreaks from contaminating food supply.

There is no law that stipulates food certification in the US. Food certification is a voluntary act that companies take part in to gain confidence with consumers and distributors in the areas in which they market their goods. 

Calling it ‘certification’ suggests that the organizations and companies certifying these products have some type of legal authority. Some of these vegan certification companies and nonprofit organization's are well respected, but that's not the same as legal authority.

Vegan certification companies have authority over the use of their logos and their respective certification standards. They use these standards to ensure the products they certify are free from animal products.

  • ISO 22000 is the most popular voluntary food safety international standard in the food industry with 39,651 sites certified (as per the ISO Survey 2019). The ISO 22000 family are international voluntary consensus standards which align to the World Trade Organization (WTO) Principles for the Development of International Standards.
  • BRC The British Retail Consortium is a trade association for retail businesses in the United Kingdom.
  • SQF Safe Quality Food program, a comprehensive HACCP-based food safety and quality management certification system. 
  • IFS International Featured Standard is an audit framework, created in 2003, which certifies private label food suppliers. It is based on the ISO 9001 standard and the HACCP system . It is similar to the ISO 22000 standard which deals with food safety management.
  • HALAL The term halal is particularly associated with Islamic dietary laws and especially meat processed and prepared in accordance with those requirements.
  • KOSHER foods are those that conform to the Jewish dietary regulations of kashrut (dietary law), primarily derived from Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14:1-21.
  • ‘Free-from’ certifications (gluten-free, allergen-free, vegan, USDA Organic, and GMO-free more info) 
  • Other types (FSSC 22000, ISTA, and other GFSI certifications)

 Food certification markets:

  •  Meat, poultry, and seafood products
  • Dairy products
  • Infant food products
  • Beverages
  • Bakery & confectionery products
  • ‘Free-from’ foods
  • Other applications (functional foods, crops, and convenience foods)

Food certification supply chains:

  • Growers
  • Manufacturers
  • Retailers
  • Other supply chains (storage, logistics, and import-export agencies )

Food certification regions:

  • North America
  • Europe
  • Asia Pacific
  • South America
  • Rest of World (South Africa, Middle East and Rest in Africa) “

  • Gluten free is an eating plan that excludes foods containing gluten.
  • Organic USDA regulates that a product must be 95% organic in order to have an organic label.
  • NonGMO GMO’s are FDA approved. There is no oversight or legal obligation to label them.
  • NonMSG MSG is FDA approved. There is no oversight or legal obligation to label it.
  • Fair trade  Fair trade is an arrangement designed to help producers in growing countries achieve sustainable and equitable trade relationships. Members of the fair trade movement add the payment of higher prices to exporters, as well as improved social and environmental standards.

This is a working list. I intend to update it over time to reflect changes in the industry:

  • Chemmap “Vegan Verification is an innovative programme from Eurofins | Chem-MAP®, which risk assesses materials and components, as well as providing testing of chemicals and materials, to establish whether any animal or by-products have been used.”
  • Foodchain ID A certifications pioneer for 33 years, FoodChain ID is a global leader in organic certification having certified over 14,000 organic operations (including over 1000 USDA NOP operations), and more than 2500 non-GMO operations worldwide. We also offer other specialty certifications such as gluten-free, U.S. Hemp Authority, as well as a variety of food safety and GMP programs.”
  • BeVeg “BeVeg is ISO accredited and recognized by the world accreditation community for its vegan standard. ISO is the International Organization for Standardization that develops and publishes international standards. BeVeg is accredited under ISO 17065 as a published vegan standard.”
  • BIORIUS relies on The Vegan Society’s standards for Vegan certification.
  • NFC Natural Food Certifiers stands for a “choice” in personal health management. By offering GMO-free, organic, gluten-free, vegan and kosher certifications
  • Vegan.Org the Certified Vegan Logo is a registered trademark, similar in nature to the kosher mark, for products that do not contain animal products or byproducts and that have not been tested on animals.”
  • Vegan Society The Vegan Trademark has been helping people identify that a product is free from animal ingredients since 1990. Registration with the trademark gives brands the confidence to shout about their vegan credentials. Look out for the Vegan Trademark on over 56,000 products worldwide, including cosmetics, clothing, food, drink, household items 
  • AnimalFree The Animal Free Rating rewards companies that pledge to stop their use of animal derived materials.
  • VeganOk Popular vegan accreditation company with over 1400 accreditations
  • Bioagricert has developed a certification scheme dedicated to vegetarian, vegan and plant based products. An independent control system (compliant with the EN 17065 standard) which aims to identify, enhance and guarantee products intended for vegetarian and vegan consumers.
  • PETA-Approved “More than 1,000 companies are using the “PETA-Approved Vegan” logo to highlight clothing, accessories, furniture, and home decor items made of vegan alternatives to animal-derived materials such as leather, fur, silk, feathers, or bone.”

Different companies and organizations follow different certification schemes. Generally, when it comes to vegan products, no animal products can be used at all. 

 

 

As stated previously, this FAQ is a work in progress. I’ll be adding to over time. Please contact me with questions, comments, or leads regarding this matter. 

Why I Went Vegan… I Think.

I was already on a trajectory to go vegan for ethics, for animals initially, and then also for the environment, but I buried the real reason for wanting to go vegan because it’s painful. I had plenty of good reasons to go vegan for a long time, but life decided for me in this instance. I think I used veganism to subconsciously to try to fill a hole my life, because of tragedy and trauma.

I recently had some discussions with people on twitter. They were vegans who believed that the only reason to go vegan is for the animals. Obviously, you can also become a vegan because of the environment, or for your health. So long as the end result is they abstain from consuming animals products. All roads to Valhalla.

The Murky Vegan Economy

Is Veganism Impossible?

Veganism, much like objectivity, is an impossibility. You can’t completely avoid contributing to a system that is intricately intertwined with animal agriculture. There are simply too many variables for that to be possible. 

That’s what makes veganism so powerful, like religion is to the religious. The same thing that makes a person’s belief in the economy so central to the economy being able to run right. It’s that same sense of accountability in people that makes them want to go vegan.

Now the economy is shifting towards a more plant based marketplace. Every market analysis on vegan products suggests that vegan products, from ice cream to cosmetics to cars, are going to expand into more significant segments of the market for the next decade or two. It’s a growth sector with massive potential and there are a ton of investors in this area who couldn’t care less about animal rights. 

It’s inevitable that as a vegan I’m going to run into products that are technically vegan, made with no animal products in them, but produced by a company that also makes products that are not vegan. There are also companies that make vegan products but are not themselves run by vegans, but owned and run by omnivores. 

America has large degrees of income inequality between the rich and the poor. Institutional racism largely affects people of color, and no decent person wants to contribute to those types of systems at all. Most vegans, like everyone stuck in a difficult situation, are doing the best we can with what we’ve got.

The Plant-Based Athlete: A Game-Changing Approach to Peak Performance

I recently made the transition from vegan to wholefoods plant based(WFPB). I read the book The Plant-Based Athlete: A Game-Changing Approach to Peak Performance, a book by Matt Frazier and Robert Cheeke (amazon link), and was convinced to use it as a guide.

For those who don’t know the difference between regular vegan and wholefoods plant based, Vegans abstain from consuming animal products across the board, while a wholefoods plant based removes processed and refined foods from the vegan diet (this is a gross oversimplification). 

I Am One Year Sober & Now Living a Wholefoods Plant-based Lifestyle

This is meant as a journal entry, which means it’s more personal, less treated like an article traditionally, so no pictures or anything meant to entertain or make the word on the page more palatable to an audience. It’s a record of my experience and thoughts, period.

Both my sobriety and veganism have evolved over time. I haven’t consistently drank since before the pandemic. As a vegan I’ve been plant-based for a few more years than I’ve been sober, although some of that is foggy to me because I was homeless and in a bad way for a time.

The Evolution of the Study of Animal Intelligence

Q & A with my Dog Jersey girl

In veganism, the question of animal intelligence seems automatically accepted without scrutiny.  Vegans have a confirmation bias towards animals and their respective intelligence levels because we’ve taken a profound action by changing how we consume food and products. 

Not consuming animal products is one thing, but arming yourself with knowledge against a tide of omnivores who refuse to accept animals as intelligent beings worthy of respect is another. 

As a skeptic and an empiricist, I personally yearn to understand the machinations of such an idea. The more I learn, the more the concept of the difference between human and animal cognition dissolves.

The Myth of the Middle Class

The 'Twin Peaks' Economy

That the middle class is somehow disappearing is a phrase that has been bandied about ad infinitum in conversations about the economy. I posit herein that the middle class had already disintegrated. We’ve become something else entirely. 

The goal here is to be able to explain that without boring the reader to tears. The problem with talking about the economy is that people simply fall asleep. Their eyes glaze over right away. They’re not familiar with most of the terms and get lost. They don’t passionately care about economics. 

Whatever the reason, it’s a complex subject. It’s not sexy. People want to understand, but when phrases like ‘bimodal distribution’ or ‘symmetrical bell curve’ are introduced, it’s already over and you can tell right away.

So how do you simplify an explanation to the point that it will be digestible to the most amount of people without reducing the subject to an absurd degree?

I came up with a short story that can help illustrate the situation simply. I follow it up with a rhetorical analysis that provides context as to how our economy became the way it is. 

The Internet Is Not A Bathroom Stall

The internet is not a bathroom stall

and/or otherwise entitled how to engage with people online regardless of the subject, and actually be successful.

It goes without saying that the internet is endlessly scrawled upon by pseudo-intellectuals waiting for their turn to speak. People endlessly spin their wheels in conversations that ping pong back and forth between two unimpressive opinions by people who aren’t even experts in the subject about which they converse.

Spending so much time and energy with little result to show for it is not productive. This subject, and those conversations, aren’t even really up to debate (it actually is, this is just my opinion). Academically, logically, and logistically it just doesn’t make sense to behave in this manner.

Debate itself can’t happen until the two parties agree upon terms. That requires from the outset some level of understood cooperation between people of differing views. You don’t HAVE TO be civilized, but none of us were raised by wolves, so acting out isn’t going to all of a sudden be seen as ‘action movie tough’ behavior. You’re not saving the day here. The idea of debate and the standards of that is so lost on our contemporary culture that we might as well be Marco Polo. 

 

JOURNAL ENTRY: Wealth and Hellness

I have done so much damage to my body and mind over time. A rock and roll lifestyle and devil may care attitude is cool when you’re young, but when you’re pushing middle age it’s not only not a good look, but it’s straight up self-harm and torture (especially if you add all the little eccentricities that make up my mental illness and trial & tribulation).

As someone who’s an alcoholic and has a history of experiencing trauma it’s taken a long time to come to a place where I feel I’m finally starting to make progress. In clarity I’ve come to so many amazing conclusions and have found passion towards myriad, varying subjects. In sobriety I found myself whole and lucid for the first time in a long time. 

I always want to reach for the stars and get what I want right away. Maybe it’s the American in me. As a nation, as a culture, we’ve been conditioned to feel we should be able to push a button and get what we want all the time. Instant gratification.