Stop putting hidden meats in vegetarian foods: food activists

Several companies put animal ingredients in their foods, without stating this on the label. Food watchdog Foodwatch is sounding the alarm, because vegetarians, Islamic and Jewish communities in The Netherlands are being duped, unable to properly follow the guidelines of their beliefs, De Volkskrant reports. 

Foodwatch calls on these groups to send an email to Minister Edith Schippers of Public Health to ensure proper food labels in Dutch stores.

Fish in fruit juices, beef in crisps, and insect resin on apples to make them shine. More than two million Dutch cannot eat animal products due to their beliefs, but probably do because of information restriction on food labels.

"Most consumers think, for example, that cheese is vegetarian, but this is often not the case", says Meike Rijksen of Foodwatch. Many cheeses contain rennet from the stomachs of slaughtered calves. Bread often contains L-cysteine, mostly sourced from feathers or animal hair, which enhances flavor.

Pig gelatin is still used in products such as Wilhelmina pepermints, Mentos, Verkade café Noir, Becel Light and many other products, used as a gelling agent. Hero puts fish gelatin in their fruit juices.

Insects, a living organism not necessarily associated with words like 'yum', or 'tasty', are also found in foods. In Arabic, the word 'haram' is used to refer to sinful things. Eating insects, or materials made by insects, are haram for muslims. However, apples, pears and citrus fruits are often given their healthy shine by a coating of shellac, which is a resin secreted by the female lac bug. Sometimes, the bugs are also ground into the resin.

Bugs are also sometimes used to make red food coloring, found in Zuivelhoeve's Boeren Yoghurt with red berries and Liga Milkbreak's strawberry cookies. Some scale insects produce carminic acid, which is processed for food coloring, and then called carmine or E120.

"It is often difficult to determine which ingredients are exactly processed in products. Manufacturers do not offer transparency on this", Rijksen argues. This is why the organization has published a list of Dutch products containing hidden animal ingredients, De Volkskrant writes. Foodwatch says that it is far from complete, and to effect real transparency, the law needs to be changed.

Professor of food quality, Tiny van Boekel of Wageningen University, says that this will be very difficult to implement, as it would take an enormous amount of time and manpower to determine the exact source of all ingredients. "Even for manufacturers, who buy ready-made excipients", Van Boekel says. "It is a question of setting priorities, and there are more important food problems", Van Boekel argues.

The Ministry of Public Health tells De Volkskrant that the Dutch and the European riles will act on the area of labeling, and that there has already been a thorough revision process. A spokesperson says that Foodwatch's alarm has come a bit too late.

Foodwatch still hopes that their action will motivate Minister Schippers into making food labels stating 'hidden animals' compulsory by law.