Irish consumers allergic to animal-derived food like egg and milk are being warned that ‘vegan’ labelled products may not be completely free of animal-based allergens.
he Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) is warning those allergic to animal products to be extremely wary when buying vegan products, as cross-contamination can occur.
This means that although a product may be deemed ‘vegan’ as it doesn’t contain any animal products, it can be contaminated by animal-based allergens during the production process.
This may not be an issue for vegans or those who choose not to eat animal products, however, it can have devastating health implications for those allergic to animal-derived products.
As the term ‘vegan’ is not defined in EU or Irish food law there are no limits set out in food law about the proportion of animal-derived ingredients permitted in such food.
The five animal-derived food allergens (egg, milk, fish, molluscs, crustaceans) must be declared at all times when used as ingredients to produce food, however, if food is cross-contaminated this will not be the case.
The growing popularity in vegan or plant-based diets does not come without health risks, according to Dr. Pamela Byrne, Chief Executive of the FSAI.
“With the proportion of the population adhering to plant-based diets, including dietary vegans, growing significantly in recent years, there has been a corresponding upsurge in products on the market purporting to cater for such diets,” she said.
“Most people who follow dietary vegan or plant-based diets do not have allergies to animal-derived products, but for those who do, accidental cross-contamination of the foods labelled as vegan could have very serious health consequences.
“Consumers who are allergic to or intolerant of egg, milk, fish, molluscs or crustaceans need to be alert to the possibility that a food declared as ‘vegan’ may contain small amounts of these animal-derived ingredients and therefore, they are not always safe for them to eat.”
Once considered a niche, the number of people following a vegan diet or lifestyle has sky-rocketed over the past few years. According to the Bord Bia Dietary Lifestyle Report 2018, 4.1 per cent of Irish adults label themselves as dietary vegans – those who follow a plant-based diet but do not consider themselves ethical vegans.