The Vegan brand helps consumers identify when a product is free from ingredients of animal origin.
Established by the Vegan Society in 1990, the number of products bearing the brand has increased in recent years as the demand for plant-based foods and beverages skyrockets. Today, more than 54,000 food and non-food products carry the mark in 79 countries.
To ensure that no material of animal origin is present in products bearing the Vegan brand, the Vegan Society is turning to Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) – a technology that can identify and report the presence of sub -Animal products and cross-contamination in food and drink. .
How does NGS work?
The Vegan brand has accredited NGS technology provided by the UK food analysis laboratory Food Forensics – a company that also tests certification programs such as those offered by the Soil Association and the Marine Stewardship Council.
“We do a lot of proof of packaging complaints,” Explained Rick Sanderson, Director of Business Development at Food Forensics. And there is a “ big opportunity ” for NGS technology in vegan food and drink testing. “As it stands, it’s a pretty immature area. The whole vegan movement is growing quite quickly, but the systems and processes are not that mature. “
Applying NGS, rather than simple DNA testing, helps speed up claims handling.
DNA tests are targeted. This means that companies can verify the presence of a particular material in a finished product. The analogy provided by Sanderson was like “fishing with a spear.” “If you think there might be beef in a product, DNA testing will allow you to verify the presence of beef.”
NGS tests, on the other hand, are not targeted. If the sequence can be found in the Food Forensics database, it can be identified. NGS is available for the specification of animals, fish, plants, fungi and bacteria.
Unlike “fishing with a spear,” NGS is like “fishing with nets,” Sanderson explained. “We collect everything, and as long as we have some kind of fingerprint for it in our database, we can tell you what’s in there.”
NGS technology is useful for composite products, for example quiches, soups and ready meals, as well as chopped foods, such as mince and fish cakes. Specialty foods, for example herbs and dried mushrooms, can also be tested.
A “ catch net ” for cross contamination
Ultimately, Food Forensics’ technology will be able to detect “even the smallest indication” of animal products.
“For someone like the Vegan Society, [this technology] is incredibly useful, because [of] their commitment to their standard, ” Sanderson said.
The director of business development also expressed concerns that the risk of contamination may have increased in recent years, as conventional meat producers seek to expand into plant-based alternatives.
“The food industry can be quite nebulous. There are all kinds of processing aids and ways in which animal material could find its way – unwittingly or not – into a vegan product.
“Many of these manufacturers will no doubt produce plant-based foods. [in the morning] then in the afternoon the production of meat-based foods. Or have packaging facilities that share [equipment]. There are all kinds of cross-contamination risks. “
Food Forensics, he explained, provides a “catch net” that tests for such contaminations.
Test certification ‘couldn’t have come at a better time’
The Vegan Society stressed that the new testing system will not replace the current one, but will help brands and businesses struggling to get information from their supply chain.
“As before, applicants and current trademark holders will still need to provide the trademark team with comprehensive evidence such as data sheets, cleaning processes, while answering very specific questions about their ingredients,” Explained the vegan charity.
The announcement “couldn’t have come at a better time,” according to Steve Hamon, business development manager for The Vegan Society.
“Working with Food Forensics will help us strengthen the support we can provide to our fantastic brand owners by having a ‘designated’ lab ready and on standby to meet any testing needs that we or our brand owners may have.
“Not only will the test help us when a candidate is struggling to get information from a supplier or manufacturer, it also gives us access to fantastic market research and food industry statistics that will be of great value to brands. and businesses in the future. “