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

15 December 2009

Bitterwallet - Carte D'or Lemon Sorbet - with dead calf! 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:

Bitterwallet - Unilver list of Ice Creams possibly made using dead cow

You can see the letter Sneh received from Unilever here, and the full list of products here and 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?


  • cheesewax
    jesus, really?? I'm eating veal juice in my pudding? Learn something new every day. That said, I'm sure there are worse things that go into our food.. hidden under the guise of 'flavourings' or 'addititives'.
  • Joff
    And who says Bitterwallet is written by a pack of drunken wannabe journos - not me, that's for sure! Thanks to Bitterwallet I've now been introduced to the joys of rennet production. (via wikipedia) "Deep-frozen stomachs are milled and put into an enzyme-extracting solution. The crude rennet extract is then activated by adding acid; the enzymes in the stomach are produced in an inactive preform and are activated by the stomach acid." Nom!
  • Krish
    I think that a warning/label should definitely be placed on food products. Things you do not suspect would be unsuitable for vegetarians (like chocolate) quite often contain whey powder from animal sources, and this just means I have to read the ingredients very carefully of everything I consider buying when shopping. The label also needs to be clear on the front (with a logo like the green vegetarian V) instead of hidden on the back in very tiny font. Some products are actually vegetarian, but the companies choose not to label the product. So, I have now decided any product which does not state it's vegetarian suitability, I will email the company directly to confirm (such as Toblerones are fine for vegetarians, even though it does not say on the packaging.)
  • piggy
    Chocolate is made by harming the plant that produces the cocoa bean, surely vegetarians shouldn't be eating it? Who gives a toss about vegetarians anyway, and vegans are the devil's spawn!
  • B. B.
    Simple solution... eat meat... ?
  • F. F.
    Make it with fish's stomachs. They don't count apparently.
  • MyOtherUserNameIsAFerarri
    Yeah, the more we limit food that is "vegetarian" the better, i cant wait to the day when the only thing on the vegetarian menu is a glass of water. Bloody Hippies!
  • Rob
    I'm with piggy 'Who gives a toss about vegetarians anyway, and vegans are the devil’s spawn!' If I had a restaurant I would have no vegetarian dishes on the menu, if some asks for a vegetarian option, I can offer them the option of getting the hell out of my restaurant.
  • Paul S.
    "And who says Bitterwallet is written by a pack of drunken wannabe journos – not me, that’s for sure!" Well you should do, Joff, because it is. Isn't rennet production great?
  • Cherry
    Anyone who says vegetarians eat fish are "thick". A vegetarian does not eat animals. What are fish? Answer: aquatic animals. Did I say animals? Duh.... so can a vegetarian eat is fish? Of course not. Even the vegetarian society states fish is not vegetarian.
  • ronnie
    I couldn't eat anything that hasn't had a face.
  • Joff
    Yes Paul, rennet truly is great. We should make this our national dish! Rennet tikka massala... Maybe BW hacks could be sent off to a rennet factory for some in depth investigative journalism - sounds like a bit of a jolly to me!
  • MattWPBS
    Ah, good for Rob and his hypothetical restaurant with no veggie options. His hypothetical restaurant which loses out on a lot of large groups, because he can't be arsed to cater to the one vegetarian in the group. Hypothetically bust I think.
  • Paul S.
    Cherry - a word from me since you've referred to me as "thick". Plenty of people who don't eat meat but do eat fish consider themselves vegetarians - the term is pesco-vegetarians, thought the official term is a pescetarian - worth checking out the dictionary definition of the word. It may not be a term recognised by the Society, but I think it's reasonable to say that plenty of people who choose such a diet consider themselves "vegetarians who eat fish".
  • Nobby
    I know a "vegetarian that eats chicken". She considers herself a vegetarian, but still eats it. So I consider myself a vegetarian that eats beef, pork, sheep, etc. Many other products are non-vegetarian. Many wines use animal products (to clear them) and sweets like refreshers are also non-vegetarian. It's great when you have a veggie over for dinner, give them their dinner (same as the meat eaters minus the meat) and tell them that they cannot have the wine as it is non-vegetarian. Then bring out a nice big jelly for pudding.
  • dunfyboy
    Unless you're a vegan you're not a veggie.
  • Paul S.
    Glass of rennet, anyone?
  • Matt
    What's more interesting is the GM debate. There are many companies that claim to have no GM products in their food. Which is true. However, the company I work for genetically modifies Mushrooms so that they produce more of the Enzyme that our customer company wants. This means (in legal terms), that no GM products are actually going into the food - The enzyme was produced naturally by the mushroom, even though the mushroom was genetically modified to do that job!
  • JJ
    Nom nom nom, the more the merrier. I hope some vegans get a shock!
  • Nigel
    Is it possible to make rennet from ground-up vegetarians?
  • GG
    Oh hilarious everyone.... Please explain why you have such a problem with people who choose to try and live their life more ethically by not wanting animals to be killed to feed us? Whenever there is an article about something related to meat, or it comes up in conversation, I (like most vegetarians) don't go on about how much I hate people who eat meat and how I wouldn't serve them food and how I'd kick them out my restaurant etc. etc. You can't (or won't) control your urge to eat dead animals, so why criticise people who can and do? The one valid reason I can think of is guilt, otherwise its just unprovoked abuse...
  • chools
    Vegetarian and vegan are useful badges for eating out. Saying you are vegetarian/vegan and then happily eating fish or raw steak (but only when there is a full moon) really doesn't help the plight of those vegetarians/vegans who try to eat there after you, and surprise staff by not wishing to eat fish/steak etc. Glad to see the thread draws so many jokes none of which I 've heard before Live and let live, or maybe whats your beef :)
  • t-bone
    so let me see, wouldn't a list of suitable for vegetarian ice creams be more usefull coz by the looks of things there aint many, im shocked how many i have ate thinking they are suitable for vegetarians.
  • callum
    I'd like to see a definitive "suitable for vegetarians" or "not suitable for vegetarians" label on food. Maybe, being a vegetarian, I am being biased, but there are a significant number (enough for most vegetarian food to be labelled as such).It is easy for the manufacturer to do, and as long as some producers of vegetarian food don't put the label on the box, its impossible to tell whether an unlabelled product is vegetarian or not (many non-vegetarian ingredients are "hidden" as E numbers on the packet).
  • STC
    Oh minorities pipe down. You'll wake the gingers
  • andy y.
    20 years on when munching on yer Solyent Green you'll pine for a bit of strained cow's arse
  • meateatingvegetable
    So If Dolly the sheep dies of natural causes would you still refuse to eat her? The one thing I dont get is those stupid alternatives like quorn and tofu. They are no where near the same thing. In fact a friend of mine made me some weird tofu and mince thing and it made me spew. Besides, quit whinging. There is a vegetarian option. Don't eat it! They're probably made this way to keep costs down. You can't expect them to kill off a majority of their consumers base hiking the prices up because they don't save the whales. It didn't seem to bother you when you had no idea what was in it. Smoke me a kipper, I'll be home for breakfast.
  • tina
    Dairy cows are impregnated repeatedly so they will continue to make milk. Most of the resulting calves are taken from their mothers and turned into veal. When the mother cows can no longer lactate they are slaughtered for their meat. So when you buy dairy products you finance much suffering that goes unnoticed.
  • Steve
    So, poor veggies have been eating animal by products without being informed?
  • Steve
  • Wibble
    This isn't news, it's commong knowledge and animal bi-products appear in many foods. Don't go drinking wine Mr Veggie - most of it contains beef.
  • Wibble
    ...or fish bladders.
  • Wibble
    or fish bladders!
  • bummble
    ahhhhh, you can go to any McD's / BK / StakeHouse / Pub etc and there is ALWAYS something on the menu for the 'veggies', but when I was dragged to a veggie restaurant, guess what? nothing for the meat eater, THAT'S discrimination!!!!, they could at lease serve a burger and chips, there is not that much meat in a burger :o)
  • James
    That is an outrage bummble, we should picket vegetarian restaurants for meat options. You vegetarians with your holier than though attitudes have been discriminating against the poor meat eaters for years and do you hear us complaining about it? I ate at a vegan restaurant once. It was the single most horrific experience I have had in my life. I can certainly not recommend the custard that arrived with the turgid dessert. Incidentally, how do vegetarians feel about carnivorous animals? Don't they also eat poor defenceless creatures just like us?
  • Smakry
    I too would like a simple labelling system that would tell me if it was suitable or not, surely it's not too much to ask? It's tricky because there are a lot of hidden products. Bulmers Orignal cider is not suitable for example! =( "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." So then why on the Ben and Jerrys website does it say that all Ben and Jerry flavours are suitable when this list you provided says some are not!? http://www.benjerry.co.uk/faqs/faq.php?id=8 Grrr.
  • David
    Who cares? Veggies. Who cares about them? Er....no one. It's not a health risk, it's a choice. So if you do have to research a product, you're making an informed choice. @GG: I don't think control comes into it. You're implying that you're somehow better with your 'control' for not eating animals. Well, you're wrong. You're a prick. Stop being a load of fussy bastards and enjoy what nature has provided. If you lot of plant munching queers were alive a few thousand years ago you'd have died because we all ate meat. Get a grip
  • siddhant
    cheese can be made without rennet. Indian Paneer is the example. Even Ice-creams can be made without using any sort of animal. To non-vegie', i don't ask you guys to turn veg, so plz do not expect me to eat fish/pork etc.
  • Nobby
    Yeah, it is possible to buy veggie ice cream. So veggies should shut up if they cannot eat Unilever ice cream. They can get their specialist products if they pay the premium for them. They are labelled correctly, but will cost more. Some veggies don't care about what is in their food, so long as it is not large pieces of meat.
  • Ben B.
    [...] 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 [...]
  • tina
    That's right Nobby, there are soy and rice ice creams you can buy. They're actually really good and better for you because, like any vegan food, they contain no cholesterol.
  • Wibble
    Tina, many plants and fungi contain cholesterol. Sorry. So you're telling me that vegans don't eat nust and mushrooms for a start then?
  • Wibble
  • Cat
    Umm, to all those idiots who are hating on veggies, stop being so damn deluded hahah. We pretty much all had a reason for becoming one, and not all of us a goddamn hippy-preachers. Some of my family had to stop eating meat due to an inability to process some of the chemicals in it, plus we had friends who used to own a farm and after seeing how to animals were treated in that place... We all stopped agreeing with industrial farming. I mean yeah, some of my family like to shoot and fish, and they'll happily eat that, but if something has been put through torturous conditions in a commercial farm..... No way in hell am I eating that. Get your facts right before you critisise

What do you think?

Connect with Facebook, Twitter, or just enter your email to sign in and comment.

Your comment