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World Consumer Rights Day and the European V-Label

EVANA Interview with Renato Pichler, Founder and Coordinator of the Project

World Consumer Rights Day is celebrated on 15 March and the official motto this year is ‘Our money, our rights.’ However, there are many other very important aspects of consumer interest and one of them is the right to clear and easy identification of food products suitable for the different lifestyles.

Regrettably for the labeling of vegetarian and vegan food there is still a lot of room for improvement. In order to find suitable products, vegetarians have to conduct tedious studies by trying to decipher the small print on food packages and are then still being left to wonder what all the abbreviations mean.

That’s why the European V-Label has been developed. This scheme offers an easy and comfortable way for the reliable identification of wanted items: Each package with the green V on yellow background can be put in the shopping trolley without further checks or concern.

We asked Renato Pichler, project founder and coordinator, to tell us more about this ingenious and reassuring system.

March 2010

EVANA: One would think that apple juice and ice cream are vegetarian products but in reality that may not always be the case. In order not to ingest food with hidden animal ingredients: What are the trickiest traps to be aware of?

Renato Pichler: The food industry uses usually gelatin for the removal of cloudy matter in fruit juices. This non-vegetarian ingredient does not even have to be declared because gelatin counts as auxiliary processing material and not as ingredient. And some ice cream brands contain capric acid obtained from animal fats.

Question: For those not familiar with the V-label, can you please explain the concept? What are the advantages?

Answer: The V-label may be only used under the condition that all ingredients and processing materials have been controlled by an independent vegetarian body. So if one sees the V-label on a product (or on the menu of a restaurant) there is no need to be concerned about the list of ingredients. One can be certain that the product has been controlled carefully. This fact differentiates the V-label from all other company-run vegetarian labels: It is controlled by independent experts.

Question: Does the V-Label also offer the possibility to identify vegetarian and vegan products?

Answer: Indeed! The V-label declares also the vegetarian category of the product. Vegan products carry the classification “vegan” underneath the label.

Question: Is the system also of interest for different religious diet rules?

Answer: Since all ingredients are so carefully controlled, Muslims can be sure that products with the V-label do not contain any products derived from pigs. People who normally only eat halal meat do not have to be concerned about ending up with something unsuitable because there are no meat ingredients whatsoever in any product carrying the V-label.

Question: When did it all start and what countries are currently participating in V-label program?

Answer: The first products were labeled in Switzerland in 1995. Today the label-system has been adopted in many European countries, such as Austria, Germany, Croatia, Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Belgium…

Question: Is there a list where consumers can see what products carry the V-Label at any given time?

Answer: Yes, the list can be found on the V-label website

Question: Do you run a list of restaurants with the V-label?

Answer: Yes, we do. The list of restaurants with V-label dishes is here

Question: Are you hoping to expand to other countries, possibly outside Europe, in the future?

Answer: Yes, we are just in the process of starting international negotiations in a number of countries, including non-European ones. In some nations its introduction is imminent.

Question: Can you explain some of the requirements a company must meet to use the V-label?

Answer: The most important requirement is that the company has to disclose all ingredients and auxiliary processing agents, including those which do not have to be declared officially (like the gelatin in apple juice mentioned before). Whenever it is unclear if ingredients are of plant or of animal origin, the supply source must to be given. Of course, each change in the recipe or production process needs to be announced after a product has been certified. Moreover the packages with the V-label are carefully controlled to make sure that the declaration has been done correctly. In order to guarantee comprehensive controls each company has to agree to spot checks of their production units.

Question: How do you follow up with companies to ensure the products are being labeled properly?

Each certificate is issued for one year, provided there is no recipe change. That means that each product is reviewed at least once annually.

Question: What makes the system interesting enough for producers and restaurants to join it?

Answer: It is the only label which is recognized all over Europe by all vegetarian organizations. It is important to mention that also the European Vegetarian Union (EVU), the umbrella organization for European vegetarian organizations, supports and promotes it. Contrary to company-owned labels, the European V-label enjoys full confidence of the target consumer groups. Moreover the scheme offers licensees access to vegetarian organizations interested in promoting their products and services.
So we have a win-win situation for all involved:
- For the promotion of their goods all participating companies get easy access to the vegetarian community.
- Vegetarians (and all those wanting to eat meatless from time to time) enjoy a label system they can fully trust.
- The participating vegetarian organizations can use their know-how for controls and establish contacts to the food industry.

Question: The last question is a general one: Recently we have seen an amazing avalanche of findings about the dire consequences of meat production and consumption. What are your expectations regarding the short and long term development of vegetarianism?

Answer: Vegetarianism’s beneficial impact in a growing number of important domains is becoming clearer by the day.

One of the hottest debates at the moment deals with the effects of livestock on climate change because, according to the FAO, the production of meat is creating more greenhouse gases than the entire traffic.
Another aspect is food security: When today a child is dying of hunger every few seconds, the necessity of shortening the food chain and by that making more resources available for hungry humans is of the greatest urgency.
Moreover public health is deteriorating because the consumption of too much animal fat is leading to a great number of problems.
For all these and many other reasons I am convinced that a solid basis for vegetarianism has already been built now and that this compassionate and beneficial lifestyle will gain momentum very quickly. The V-label is going to play an important role in this development by bringing together all those interested in cooperation: the food industry, vegetarian organizations, retailers and restaurant owners and of course all consumers looking for guaranteed vegetarian products.

EVANA: Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. We wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.

Source: European V-Label
Author: Daelyn Fortney interviewed Renato Pichler on behalf of EVANA

Link: EP: Consumer protection under discussion by MEPS
Link: European Vegetarian Union
Link: Lists of organisations taking part in the V-Label system
Link: Swiss Union for Vegetarianism

Date: 2010-03-14

Other EVANA-articles about this topic:
European V-Label has been present for a year now in Croatia (en)


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