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'VEGAN' vs 'DAIRY-FREE' labelling - What's the difference?

A product labelled as 'VEGAN' is not necessarily entirely free from DAIRY. Here's why.

Veganism is an ethical philosophy which focuses on reducing the use and abuse of animals by humans and thus reducing animal suffering and death. Food is what one normally thinks of when the word 'vegan' comes to mind, but adopting a vegan lifestyle means avoiding all products, including food and drink but also things such as toiletries and clothing in which animals have been purposely harmed in the process of making. 

What makes a food product VEGAN?

In order for food to be vegan, the RECIPE must be completely free from animal products and the process of making the food must be free from animal harm as far as practicably possible.


What makes a product DAIRY-FREE?

In order for a product to be correctly labelled 'dairy-free' it must be made using an entirely dairy-free recipe and must also be manufactured in an environment which is completely free from dairy products.

These strict controls are there to ensure no cross-contamination, as even tiny particles of dairy residue could cause a severe allergic reaction in individuals suffering from a dairy allergy.

So, why the confusion?

Many people confuse 'vegan' with 'free from' and don't grasp what's at the heart of veganism as a movement. It exists to reduce animal suffering and death. Bearing this in mind, you can prepare vegan food alongside food which contains animal products, at risk of cross-contamination, while still adhering to vegan ethics. No animals have suffered because of cross-contamination. The problem only arises when animal products are actively used in the ingredients (recipe) or the process of manufacture. This is why vegan food, such as chocolate, is routinely labelled as 'May contain traces of milk'.

So it's best to always read food labels carefully if you have allergies.

Further reading can be found on The Vegan Society's website, here: https://www.vegansociety.com/news/blog/TM2021/allergen-vs-vegan-labelling