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I'm trying to eat vegan and having a hard time determining (by the packaging) which products are appropriate for me.

Are there symbols or certifications I can look for, preferably something backed by a federal or state government?

If there isn't such a thing in widespread use, then what is the reason for its non-existence or lack of general adoption?

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+1 This is a good and valid question that can be answered. –  citadelgrad Feb 27 '11 at 13:55
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I voted down because it appears you are venting rather than asking a question. You demonstrate that you already know the answer to the question served in your title, and little can be added to the discussion by the community. You would be better-served to take your feedback to the appropriate government agency. –  Sean Hart Feb 27 '11 at 13:55
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As for the 'why', I'd suggest that creating a logo, standards, and then enforcing said standards is probably time- and money-consuming. Who should pay for this? Most manufacturers catering for a vegan market will likely try to advertise themselves by incorporating something in their packaging. Alternatively, you could perhaps just read the ingredients list? –  KimbaF Feb 27 '11 at 14:44
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I removed the ranty language. It's definitely a valid question, just wasn't phrased in a particularly constructive fashion. –  Aaronut Feb 28 '11 at 1:14
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if you're asking about "official" and "certification" it would be good if your question said which country you are in. what's official where you are may not apply elsewhere. –  Tea Drinker Feb 28 '11 at 13:18

6 Answers 6

up vote 5 down vote accepted

There are two common symbols; the European Vegetarian Union (EVU) and Vegan Action.

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In my experience, you will see the EVU on packaging and on restaurant menus. I've only ever seen the Vegan Action symbol on packaged products.

The EVU is not exclusively vegan so you'll still need to read the packaging or ask about ingredients if in a restaurant. The Vegan Action symbol is exclusively vegan and is becoming very popular in the United States.

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As citadelgrad mentioned, there are currently agencies that certify vegan standards. Vegan Action's certification (the V in the heart) is no longer accepting new applications for certification. According to this article from Vegetarian Journal, other certification groups include the European Vegetarian Union (not vegan), Natural Food Certifiers, The Vegan Society, and a symbol from Edward & Sons Trading Company.

To discuss the broader question, as I understand it, the issue with food certifications is twofold.

First, companies need to feel it is worthwhile to pay to get this certification. There needs to be enough of an advantage to sales in getting the certification that it outweighs the cost in both money and time to get it. (Certification agencies get paid for their symbols.) Which means that there has to be a large audience who will be significantly more likely to buy a product if it has the certification than if it doesn't.

Secondly, there needs to be an agency to provide the certification. This requires knowing your audience well enough to establish standards that are widely acceptable. Then you need to train inspectors to monitor the food production to ensure that products are living up to the standards you set. And they need to publicize the value of the certification among the desired audiences. (Often different groups. For example, kosher certifications are often promoted as providing more healthful food -- which may or may not be the case.)

The process is complex. For example, there's currently a movement in the kosher community to found a certification of ethical production. (Wikipedia discusses it here.) This process has wide support among many kosher food consumers, and yet it's still in development and has been since 2006.

It appears to me that there has not yet been a symbol that meets both criteria well enough to become common for vegan foods.

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Vegan's Action has resumed taking application as of April 1st, 2011. –  Joubarc Aug 29 '11 at 11:37

There's also the logo from the Vegan Society; while UK-based it's beginning to find its way through mainland Europe as well.

The Vegan Society trademark

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the orthodox union o-u is close: it means that the food is parve.

It may have eggs or fish (with fins and scales, no shellfish) in it, but no other animal ingredients.

and as a previous poster said, watch out for the "natural flavors" ingredient.

o-u symbol

http://www.oukosher.org/

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You have to be very careful with any type of symbols you look for as the symbol is only as good as what the organization behind it accepts as valid process. I generally look for Kosher symbols because one organization which has the Kosher symbol does not accept any type of meat but another organization which has similar Kosher symbol accepts meat which are in accordance of proper slaughtering (all meats except pigs).

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I find a quick way to glance at new products is the usually-bolded allergen statements on the back, under the ingredients listing. This will often rule-out products. Once a product passes this "test", though, you still want to check the ingredients for things that aren't necessarily listed as an allergen (like honey).

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