Why your ice cream is made using meat, and why you're not told
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?