Is It Vegan? How To Read The Labels

For a product to be completely vegan it must be free from animal products, animal by-products and animal testing. I already have a post on how to avoid animals testing but today we are going to dive even more into labels that can be found on products to figure out if they are vegan or not. Because how do you tell if a product is vegan or not? What if the back of the package says that it may contain eggs? Does that mean that there are actually eggs in the product. This and all the other labels (that I know of) is what I am going to talk about today.

Wow, there are a lot of different labels and symbols. I have seen products marked with a V, says vegan friendly, has the bunny, some say cruelty free and some say vegan. Well, what is the difference? Has it been tested on animals or what? Do they contain animal products? Can a product not be tested on animals yet contain some kind of animal product? Let's find out:

The different symbols or labels and what they mean:

Vegetarian/suitable for vegetarians: anything that is labeled suitable for vegetarians does not contain meat but can contain dairy and eggs and they are therefore not vegan. Check the back to see if there are any other animal products in it - dairy and eggs are allergen which means that the companies must inform clearly if dairy or eggs are in their products. Check the back, sometimes you are lucky and there are no animal products and it is in fact vegan.

You could mistake the V logo above for a vegan logo but this V with a leaf is actually a (uncertified) vegetarian logo and therefore does not exclude animal products.

Animal ingredients to look for making the products NOT vegan:
  • Albumen/albumin: from eggs
  • Aspic: an alternative to gelatin made from meat or fish
  • Casein: a milk protein
  • Cod liver oil: found in creams, lotions vitamins and supplements
  • Collagen: skin, bones and tissue from animals such as cows, fish, chickens and pigs
  • Elastin: similar to collagen, made from the neck ligaments and aorta of bovine
  • Gelatin/Gelatine: made by boiling the bones, skin, tendons and/or ligaments of animals, typically cows and pigs
  • Honey: food for bees, made by bees
  • Isinglass: from the dried swim bladders of fish, used for wine and beer
  • Keratin: form the bones, skin and tissue of animals, typically cows, fish, chickens and pigs
  • Lactose: a milk sugar
  • Lard/tallow: animal fat
  • Pepsin: form the pig's stomach, used in vitamins
  • Propolis: from bees used for the construction of hives
  • Royal jelly: from the throat gland of honeybees
  • Shellac: from the bodies of female insects
  • Vitamin D3: from the fish-liver or wool of sheep
  • Whey: a by-products form milk

E-numbers that are almost always animal products or by-products:
  • E120: Carmine, also known as natural red 4, cochineal or carminic acid. Crushed up beetles for red coloring
  • E441: Gelatin
  • E542: Ground animal bones used to keep food moist
  • E901: Beeswax. From bees
  • E904: Shellac. Made from insects
  • E910, E920, E921: Made from animal hairs and feathers, additives found in bread
  • E913: Lanolin. From sheep and other woolly animals. Used in cosmetics, vitamin D3 and multi vitamins
  • E966: Lactitol. A sweetener from lactose

Dairy-free/lactose-free: does not mean that it is vegan, it just means that the product is without dairy but could contain other animals products such as eggs or meat. It is actually pretty common when a product has this label to contain other animal products but do check to see if the products is in fact plantbased - you might get lucky.

Free from…: when a product says it is 'free from egg' or another animals products it does not mean that the products is vegan. It can be free from eggs but contain dairy, meat or some of the animal ingredients from above. Check the back to see if you are lucky.

This product may contain: If it says that; this products may contain eggs, milk or maybe nuts it does not mean that it is actually in the products like an ingredient. It just means that the products have been made in the same factory as a products with egg/milk/nuts. So why state it? The companies have to put it on their packaging because people with certain allergies need the clarification. Someone that is deadly allergic to nuts or dairy need to know if there may be a small piece of it on the products because it may be possible. A products can be vegan and have 'this products may contain [insert animal products]' on it - it is still vegan (to me) because the animal products is not an actual ingredient but can be found in it. 

Vegan/suitable for vegans: when something says vegan or suitable for vegans it likely means that there are no animal products, no animal by-products or animal testing in the item. A products can however state that it is vegan but have used animal testing (how that is logical is something I don't understand..). Only certified vegan logos ensure both:

Certified vegan logos include:
The certified vegan logo: this products contains no animal products and has not been tested on animals and is therefore suitable for vegans.

The official UK certified vegan logo by The Vegan Society: this product contains no animal products and has not been tested on animals and is therefore suitable for vegans.

The leaping bunny: is put on products that do not test any new ingredients or the finished product on animals but the label does not ensure that there are no animals in the products. This means that the label does not mean that the products are vegan - only that it has not been tested on animals. 

Therefore, be aware! Companies can place bunny logos, write 'not tested on animals', uncertified vegan logos and still not be vegan. There are no laws or rules for using those terms on products. No one is checking. Some products can say not tested on animals but it was only one or two ingredients in the products that were not tested. Or that some of the ingredients were tested on animals but the finished product was not. Only certified vegan logos ensure a vegan product.  

Not tested on animals: When a products says that it is not tested on animals it does not mean that it is completely vegan. This can just mean that either the finished products or some of the ingredients were not tested on animals. There can also still be animal ingredients in a product stating that it was not tested on animals.

Cruelty free: Again, when a products says that it is cruelty free it does not mean that it is completely vegan. It can still contain animal products even though it was not tested on animals. Again, how that can be logical, I don't know? Surely if something is cruelty free it is completely without harming animals whether that be ingredients or testing but that is not the case. 

These are some of the logos and labels you can encounter on your hunt for vegan products. I hope this post helped clarify some of them and help you along the way. Thank you for reading and if you have any question please ask below.