VEGA News Item

Improving Standards of Cheesy Labelling - 18/11/2005
We seek the FSA's help in overhauling labelling claims and authentication of alternatives intended for the dairy-free consumers. We aim to avert serious nutritional incompetence and misunderstandings. We refuse to be cowed.
We have dealt with several consultations on labelling matters and definitions (see VEGA News) and have recommended in vain invitations to officers of the FSA to a shopping round with a scientifically trained and discriminating customer, such as one of our researchers. As muddle and misunderstandings persist over definitions of words such as vegetarian and vegan, we are preparing an addition to the content of our earlier consultation to trace the basis of the vegetarian cause and scientifically-inspired factors informing it, especially just after WW2 with the founding of the Vegetarian Nutrition Research Centre, of which one of our Trustees is a founder-member. VEGA owes its origins to the VNRC, which launched soon after its formation the scientific journal Plant Food for Human Nutrition; our Trustee was on its editorial board. In 1976 we launched a Green Plan for farming, food, health, and the land that raised many issues that have proved to be highly relevant and in tune with the FSA’s objectives and purports and with our earlier relations with MAFF (now DEFRA). We also engage in many consultations with independent comment and advice to the food and farming industries, acting with a broad purview on the common good.

We write now on a matter of particularly relevant and topical interests on labelling, claims, and authenticity, over which we warn that consumers may be seriously confused. We hope to elicit support from the FSA to reinforce our admonitions to the food industry for actions to the consumers benefit.

We have bought in the last few days at an outlet in a retail chain one of the Redwood company’s Cheezly range. Labels on these products are displayed on the firm’s website. Apart from the name the claims on the packet (Dairy Free, Lactose Free, non –hydrogenated vegetable fats, and suitable for vegetarians and vegans…, as well as the imprimaturs of the Vegetarian and Vegan Societies and their approvals – presumably on acceptance of fees – and endorsement). These products could therefore attract a wide range of customers seeking alternatives and replacements of animal-derived hard cheeses in their diets and those of their families. The products might be recommended on their low fat and high carbohydrate content.

We assess the risks of such a substitution quantitatively on the basis of protein and fat (figures as percentages by weight, unless otherwise stated).

P 3.3
F 7.6
E 168

Cheddar-style cheese:
P 26
F 33.5
E 406

Cream cheese:
P 3.1
F 47
E 439

P (Protein), F (Fat ), E (Energy, kcal/100g)

Consumers seeking such dietary alternatives should be provided with warnings over a serious lack of equivalence or given information on appropriate adjustments or supplementation; or the products might be fortified.

Soya and some other plant-milks and drinks are foods for dairy-frees and are adjusted to nutritional equivalence (or better) to comparable animal-derived products, a subject in which we have been involved for about 40 years since the pioneering Plamil milks came on the market. This example has been widely followed and should be translated into alternatives such as Cheezly. In our discussions with retailers and manufacturers of the non-dairy milks and yogurts we remain of the opinion, especially with regard to results from the NDNS, that fortification, claims and disclosures of B-vitamins, calcium, iodine, and vitamin D must be overhauled (some, like Cheezly, may contain undisclosed amounts of carrageen, a seaweed-derived texturizing agent and possible source of dietary iodide).

From the start Plamil could lay claim to superiority over British animal-derived milks on account of its fortification with vitamin D, a deficiency in British dairy-milks that cannot be remedied legally. The level in fortified soya-milks and drinks now widely available approaches the content in fortified dairy-products in many countries, including the USA (excluding Alaska) at latitudes lower than the UK. We recommend British manufacturers to raise the early prudent level of fortification by a third, which would correspond to the content in nearly all liquid cow milk in the USA. Products such as Cheezly should be fortified appropriately.

We have also initiated an enquiry, through John Dixon of your library, on the labelling, description, and authentication of apple varieties (e.g. Cox). The thoroughness of authentication of potatoes should surely be reproduced for other items – at least those caught under generic calls for discriminating purchasers and consumers of fruit and veg.

We observe further that current international debate over sugar regimes may instigate more commercial and consumer interest in the authentication of the provenance of sugar. It is often argued that “pure” sugar from cane or beet is indistinguishable. This is not so: isotopic analysis can distinguish the source, the biochemistry of tropical and temperate crops being different – C4 against C3 in botanical terms and identified by different isotope ratios.

Registered Charity No. 1045293
© VEGA - 2008