VEGA News Item

Food Law (and Lore) for Vegetarians - 11/11/2004
Veggies assert that they know their onions and are green- but not behind their ears.
The Food Safety Act 1990 (Amendment) Regulations 2004. The General Food Regulations 2004

Our website indicates our background and concerns for food standards, some of which are being concurrently rehearsed in consultations with others in the Food Standards Agency (FSA) Division on the labelling of foodstuffs for vegetarians.

Definitions requiring renewed scrutiny concern us:

1. Animal.
The scientific animal-vegetable-mineral term comprehends all species expected to be sentient from humans to corral: they may also be exploited for food. Descriptions such as live animals or birds, or live fish introduce unnecessary divisions and confusions; all these species are, like us, animals of one sort or another. Animals are included in many species other than mammals.

2. Meat.
This word has changed in meaning and content since biblical times and in various contexts: “one man’s meat ….” and “fish, flesh and fowl” have become figures of speech with occasional aptness but generally unsatisfactory in legal and scientific terms. The Meat and Livestock Commission and the Royal Smithfield Show represent the interests of the trade in red meat and the by-products and co-products (which would comprehend organ meats, e.g. offals and “liquid meats” such as blood and milks, which contain animal cellular matter). Poultry, like fish, would be separated as white meat from this definition, except where it might be rated with venison, rabbit and game, as well as exotics such as ostriches, as red meat and there is even the meat of the egg. Meat from swine is normally regarded as bloody enough to be classified as red meat, although the trade likes to play on its paleness and the perceived nutritional and economic advantages of poultry to have at least one trotter in the white meat sector. In economic terms white meat is much less heavily subsidized than red. However, in legal and scientific terminology, it is best to apply the term meat to any non-liquid comestible derived from an animal, with qualifying words for species or purpose: thus, horse meat, chicken liver, dog-meat etc. (It becomes tricky when the dog’s meat is actually horse meat). Likewise, milks need prefixes (or suffixes): thus human milk, cow milk, goat milk, soya milk etc; and these practices require continuation into derivatives such as butters, creams yogurts etc…And similarly, bee honey, maple syrup, beet sugar.

3. Ingestion.
“Nil by mouth” does not connote starvation: nutrients and pharmacological substances (which may include essential vitamins and minerals) may have to be administered by injection and by enteral and parenteral means. Absorption through the external skin can be an effective way of delivering nourishment (and adverse consequences) directly into the bloodstream, by-passing the first-pass mechanisms that operate when food is taken by mouth. Some elements of food may also be administered by enema.

4. Toiletries.
Cosmetics may be dismissed as foods for the skin, if not for vanity; toiletries may have nutritional effects, some harmful (e.g. for some genotypes with certain allergies, who may even react to inhaled substances) or beneficial (e.g. in the perceived advantages of fluoridated toothpaste; certain brands of toothpaste, with moderate swallowing, could furnish about a quarter of a toddler’s RNI for the essential micro-element zinc). Although some of these administrations may be harmful and unwitting, intended delivery of nourishment by topical applications to the skin cannot be disregarded.

5. Pet Foods.
These commodities are sold by major retailers for storage, use, and consumption in domestic households, in which they may be consumed by people. The industry increasingly governs itself with prepared foods in metal or plastic containers but the “5th quarter” trade in butchery offal lingers and presents all (or more) of the microbiological and zoonotic problems over meat sold for human consumption. This can present problems in families among whom there may be handlers of raw meat, pregnant and nursing women, and babies and toddlers, as well as pets. Such difficulties must be allowed for also in institutions that allow staff and inhabitants access to and mingling with pets.

6. Feed (stuffs).
Our comments on pet-foods apply in these contexts. Lessons from the BSE disaster and from efforts at producing nutritionally-adjusted and augmented foods from “doctored” feedstuffs illustrate likely consumer-interests in the connexion between the contents and origin of feeds (from which risks of mycotoxins may be transmitted to foods widely available). Aversions to GM feeds in dairying further illustrate this point. If the food regulations exclude these possibilities, the consumer should at least be provided with evidence from clear links of association and with Orders (presumably under DEFRA’s mandate on feedstuffs) covering food available to non-human and human species.

7. Supplements.
As with feedstuffs, consumers and manufacturers need clearer guidance through the present “grey areas” of “health foods”, supplements, fortified staples, and alternatives, and over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription only (POM) products (and parallel considerations occur in farming practices). In plough-to-plate interpretations supplementation and fertilization of soils must also be entertained (e.g. with selenium, sulfur, and cobalt) in the interests particularly of human consumers of the food-products.


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