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.