food labeling in India versus food labeling in the United States

Food labeling in India

Food labeling in India: The green image denotes a product without animal ingredients, while the image on the right labels products containing animal ingredients. Image courtesy of Kotra and the Wikimedia Commons.

A reader named Pradeep wrote to tell us about India’s veg-friendly food-labeling system, in which a green dot on a product means it does not contain any animal ingredients. Pradeep is now in the United States and has difficulty identifying veg products. He has to examine food labels and determine whether unfamiliar ingredients might be derived from animals.

And it’s no wonder. Here’s a little background for those who may not be aware of how veg food labeling works in the United States (hint: it’s much different from India’s system). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) Food Labeling Guide only addresses animal products in the food allergen section, and the FDA passes the buck by saying: “We recommend that producers of meat products, poultry products, and egg products, which are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), contact appropriate USDA agency staff regarding the labeling of such products.” A search through the bewildering maze of the USDA’s Web site doesn’t shed much light on that agency’s stance on labeling.

Enter the Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG), which provided a thoroughly researched overview of the labeling situation in 2006, concluding, “There is no federal regulation of the word ‘vegetarian’ or ‘vegan’ in the United States.” So although food products in the United States lack a federal label that would indicate products containing animal ingredients, individual organizations are stepping up to the plate to address the issue. The Vegetarian Label Fact Table in the VRG’s article compares these labels and what each might indicate.

If anyone is interested in working with Pradeep on a labeling campaign in the United States, contact us and we’ll forward your info to him. In the meantime, keep reading those labels, and share your shopping strategies with us.