Veganuary 2020 is drawing to a close. This year, over 350,000 people pledged to go vegan for January and the food industry rushed to meet growing demand for new vegan products. This month we’ve seen vegan product launches from the likes of Costa Coffee, Gregg’s, KFC and Subway and statistics from Mintel suggest that in 2019, one in four new food launches was a vegan product.

One thing seems obvious: vegan business is booming, and it’s here to stay. Here's our round up of frequently asked questions about the law around veganism.

Is there a legal definition of vegan/veganism?

No, not yet, although several groups are campaigning for one.

What can I label as vegan?

There’s no requirement for products to be labelled as vegan, but any information provided voluntarily must not mislead consumers or be ambiguous or confusing.

Free from animal derived ingredients is the absolute minimum requirement, but food products should also be free from non-vegan contaminants. Read our full article on vegan labelling here.

Can I call my non-dairy product “milk” or “cheese”?

Have you ever noticed that soy milk is actually labelled ‘soy drink’? That’s because in Europe, dairy terms like milk, cheese and yoghurt may only be applied to products made from “mammary secretions”. Although there are some exceptions for things like peanut butter and cocoa butter.

There are also a good many cheese names which are protected by geographical indicators. Read our full article on GI protected products here.

Can I call my meat substitute a “burger” or “steak”?

Last year, a proposal was announced by the European Parliament to ban terms such as “burger” and “sausage” being used in relation to meat substitute products. DEFRA MP Zac Goldsmith has stated that the current food labelling legislation in the UK is sufficient and that consumers are not mislead by the use of these terms in relation to meat substitute products.

At this point, it seems unlikely that a ban would be enforced in the UK after Brexit but keep an eye on Europe; France has already taken steps at national level to ban words like “steak” etc being used for meat substitutes.

I’m a vegan business. What if I’m provided with non-vegan products by a supplier?

If the goods have been described as vegan or you have specifically notified the supplier of your requirement that the goods be vegan, then the supply of non-vegan goods would be a breach of the statutory requirement under the Sale of Goods Act for a product to be as described, satisfactory quality, and fit for purpose.

You may have a right to reject the goods or claim damages for breach of contract (usually the cost of replacement goods or the wasted price). Unfortunately, it’s not always that straightforward and in B2B sales it’s not unusual for suppliers to exclude statutory remedies and limit their liability for damages. Rejecting unsuitable goods could even put you in breach! Please get in touch for specialist advice. We can also help make your PO terms more robust.

I’m a vegan consumer. What if I’m provided with non-vegan products by a business?

Like the Sale of Goods Act, the Consumer Rights Act also requires that any goods purchased must be as described, satisfactory quality, and fit for purpose. However, unlike in B2B sales, these statutory requirements cannot be excluded when dealing with consumers.

You may be able to reject the goods or claim damages for breach of contract (usually the cost of replacement goods or the wasted price). The Vegan Society offers guidance to individuals who have been mis-sold goods, including assisting with complaints against companies for food contamination.

I’m an employer. Do I have to make adjustments for my vegan employees?

Possibly. A recent non-binding decision in the Employment Tribunal has found that veganism is a protected belief and, as such, it is unlawful to discriminate against vegans. Best practice is to ensure that you accommodate vegans as you would others. For example, if you order in lunch for employees, you should provide vegan options. Also, make sure that your current policies do not infringe on their beliefs, such as a requirement to wear leather shoes. Read our full article on the ET’s decision here.