Posts Tagged ‘unilever’
Judging by your emails, some people will never sleep again unless we provide some answers as to whether Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is “veggie friendly” or not. The furore stems from Bitterwallet receiving a document from Unilever stating a third of Ben & Jerry’s products are “unsuitable for a vegetarian diet due to the presence of (other) non-vegetarian ingredients”. Despite this, the Ben & Jerry’s website promotes all its products as “veggie friendly”. What the blinking hell is going on?
See, it depends how you define vegetarian – there are subtle but important differences depending where a product is manufactured. The products deemed unsuitable are produced in the US where their definition is different, and so they can’t carry the recognised V symbol denoting them to be vegetarian produce – the symbol used by the European Vegetarian Union (EVU) to denote food that meets strict guidelines.
This is what Unilever had to say when Bitterwallet contacted them:
I can confirm that all Ben & Jerry’s products are vegetarian – we do not use any meat products, including gelatine.
We use the EVU V symbol on most of our flavours as the ingredients are made in our Dutch factory, using milk from our Caring Dairy and free range eggs.
However five of our flavours contain brownies/chocolate baked goods that are sourced from the US. US suppliers use eggs that are US Vegetarian Society approved, from certified ‘cage-free chickens’. But as the EUV [sic] does not recognise this US standard (rather, they recognise free range egg certification), we have not put the EUV V symbol on the packs of these flavours.
Your point about the vegetarian product list on the Unilever website is a fair one. Legally we can say that all our products are suitable for vegetarians, but the main reason these five products are not listed on the website is simply because Unilever doesn’t want people to mistake ‘vegetarian approved’ with ‘EUV’ approved, as in this case they are different.
The fact is using two different definitions of the same word to market products is confusing. Unilever use the EVU symbol where they can, but can then ignore that standard and class everything else as vegetarian, too – even if they then label products on their own documents as “unsuitable for a vegetarian diet”.
Ultimately, if you’re a vegetarian who wants to scoff a tub of Ben & Jerry’s Cookie Dough Ice Cream in one sitting, you have to decide whether the EVU is correct to consider “cage-free” chickens as unsuitable for vegetarian diets. What does “cage-free” actually mean? According to the Humane Society of the United States:
Because of public opposition to battery cage confinement, many egg producers are switching to cage-free systems. While these systems generally offer hens a higher level of animal welfare than do battery cage systems, the mere absence of cages doesn’t necessarily ensure a high level of welfare.
- Cage-free farms typically buy their hens from the same hatcheries that supply battery-cage farms. These hatcheries kill the male chicks upon hatching—more than 200 million each year in the United States alone.
- Most cage-free hens have part of their beaks burned off, a painful mutilation.
- Hens are typically slaughtered at less than two years old, far less than half their normal lifespan. They are often transported long distances to slaughter plants with no food or water.
- While the vast majority of the battery and cage-free egg industry no longer uses starvation to force molt the birds, there are battery and cage-free producers alike who still use this practice.
So, while cage-free does not mean cruelty-free, cage-free hens generally have better lives than those confined in battery cages.
There we are. Unilever claims their own products are unsuitable for vegetarians on one hand and suitable on the other. They base this on the fact that some products are suitable the US, but unsuitable if you ask the EVU. Got it? Good.
Yesterday we told you about how plenty of the country’s favourite frozen desserts are unsuitable for vegetarians, because the production process involves rennet, a substance extracted from the stomach linings of calves. Mmm, enzymes.
Unilever manufacture plenty of the best selling ice cream brands in the UK and Ireland, and we published their official lists of products both suitable and unsuitable for vegetarians – the lists are only available if you request them direct from the company. Here’s part of that list (see the large version here):
Over a dozen Ben & Jerry’s products are listed as unsuitable (and you still thought it was made by a couple of hippies and happy cows) – the EVA referred to is the European Vegetarian Union, an organisation that amongst other achievements has seen the yellow “V” symbol become commonplace on foods labels across Europe.
So on the one hand, Unilever are stating that these particular products – around a third of the Ben & Jerry’s range – are unsuitable for vegetarians “due to the presence of (other) non-vegetarian ingredients”. On the other hand, is this statement on the Ben & Jerry’s website that Bitterwallet reader Smakry spotted in their FAQ section: fr
No caveats, no small print to suggest when they say “all Ben & Jerry’s flavours are veggie-friendly” what they really mean is only two thirds are. So if Unilever have placed these products on an official document and deemed then unsuitable for vegetarians, why are they promoting them as suitable?
Some vegetarians are fine scoffing eggs and milk, cheese and fish, while others won’t stand for that sort of stuff and are picky in the extreme – they’re vegans and we don’t understand their sort whatsoever. The general rule is that vegetarians don’t like to see animals harmed to produce what they eat, so most are comfortable with dairy products and the like.
What about ice cream, then? Avid Bitterwallet reader Sneh has been in touch with correspondence she received from Unilever, who produce many of the bestselling frozen dessert products in the country. Surprisingly, the majority of ice cream products are completely unsuitable for vegetarians.
Some of you won’t be surprised to learn that, but for the rest of you – a quick lesson about cheese. Unilever’s products include whey, which is a by-product of cheese manufacturing. No meat there, but it’s typically created by using a substance called rennet to cause the milk to separate into a solid (the curd, which makes the cheese) and liquid (the whey). It’s the rennet that’s the problem – while it can be created from fungi, you typically make this stuff by cutting up and marinading the stomachs of newly born calves. To summarise, your tub of ice cream has probably been produced using dead baby cows, and that’s what Unilver allude to here:
The issue for Sneh is that this fact isn’t mentioned on Unilever’s products. At the very least, in the same way that a bag of nuts might carry the over-zealous warning “may contain nuts”, it’s perhaps not unreasonable to assume frozen desserts that saw a baby calf have its stomach chopped up to produce it should state “may be unsuitable for vegetarians” – according to Sneh, they don’t.
Where does the law stand on this? In the shade, as usual:
The terms ‘vegetarian’ and ‘vegan’ in food labelling are used voluntarily by industry. Where these terms are absent, consumers rely on the list of ingredients.
Unilever would only be misleading consumers if they stated their products were suitable for vegetarians when they weren’t. By not mentioning they aren’t, they’re in the clear. In other words, you have to assume all food is a by-product of dead animals unless the packaging says otherwise – the onus is entirely on the consumer to not only read the food labeling but then research it. That said, when a product appears to be produced without the requirement for dead baby cows – it’s not your first thought when you lick a Cornetto – wouldn’t it make sense to add “may not be suitable for vegetarians” to the labeling?
Should Unilever (and other food manufacturers) at least warn consumers in this instance, or is all the responsibility on the vegetarians?
Crowd-sourcing then. A modern way of drawing upon the expertise of many to come up with a distinct solution. Or if you’re Unilever, the manufacturers of Pepperami, a sneaky way to get material for a new ad on the cheap.
Unilever have announced that they’ll no longer be employing the expensive, hot-shot ad agency Lowe London to come up with their promos, as they have done for the past 15 years. Oh no, they’ll be crowd-sourcing from now on. Come up with the best idea for their next ad and you’ll win $10,000 (about £6,100) – and we’re guessing that’s much less than Lowe London would have received for their troubles.
Matt Burgess, the managing director of Chrysalis UK, the division of Unilever that manages Peperami blahblahblah-ed: “This is not a stunt. As an ongoing way of making our content we are crowd-sourcing. A plumber from Barnsley could enter but so could people with strong serious creative intent.”
Oh how marvellous! A plumber from Barnsley! He’ll be delighted that he’s getting a chance, but are you sure he’ll know which end of the pencil to use? You patronising shitehawks.
None of this sounds like what we understand ‘crowd-sourcing’ to be – in fact it sounds more like a fucking ‘competition.’ Pepperami – it seems it’s not actually a bit of animal, but a bit of a twat.