Plant-Rich Products Lead in Fidelity on World Consumer Rights Day


Have you ever wondered whether what you’re buying is at a fair price, or whether the quality and standards of these products are up to snuff? If you have, you wouldn’t be the first – and it’s that kind of vigilance over our trade economy that prevents us from constantly having to leer dubiously at every purchase, always worrying that we may be being hoodwinked in some way. 

Since the age of yore swindlers and snake oil salesmen have pocketed big profits off of dealing in sham products. It may have taken a few centuries, but at least today we have laws guarding the legitimacy of merchandise. Unfortunately that still doesn’t entirely stop the odd hustler from trying to sell us on less-than genuine goods. Not everyone is out to trick you however, and even without ill intent the complexities of today’s manufacturing apparatus in respect to the countless products put to market allow for consumers having an imperfect understanding of their purchases.

Consumer rights, much like democracy itself, is something we only tend to have for as long as we can keep it. The cost of maintenance is in our own wariness, and the insistence that information about what our purchases contain and how they are made is authentic; that we are protected from fraudulent activity in the marketplace.

To remind us of this fragile and challenging legal privilege, World Consumer Rights Day is celebrated on March 15th every year. It’s a day for examining the scrutiny placed on our products as much as it is the unethical practices that may undermine their purity. 

Along the full gamut of goods and services where deceit may be a concern there are few industries such as food where subterfuge, or at least attempted trickery, is still commonplace. According to the United Nations food fraud impacts an estimated one percent of the global food industry and could cost up to US$40 billion annually – and those are merely cases of overt fraud and counterfeits. Do you think that parmesan cheese or caviar or the truffle oil that you’re eating is the real thing? Check again.

Read the back of almost any food packaging today and you’re almost certain to encounter a dizzying nomenclature that almost none but the inventors behind them can fully decipher. The fact is that our food system is full of pitfalls for ingredient substitutions, contamination, adulteration and opportunities for confusing labelling, by its very design.

Allergens and sensitivities are another factor –  you wouldn’t want to ingest gluten if you have Celiac disease, or nuts or dairy if you can’t safely metabolise those. Buyer beware – there remain ways in which even the most descriptive food labelling does not tell the full story, and for the average consumer it’s hard to trust food products when there’s such a deficit of transparency.

Do you know what you’re eating?

A little known fact is that various components of food do not legally belong to said ingredients and therefore do not need to be declared in the list. These include processing aids, carrier substances, food additives and food enzymes.

This can mislead consumers when making their purchasing decisions, especially those committed to specific health and lifestyle choices. The problem is everywhere: from wine filtered with isinglass, egg whites and casein – to sugar processed with animal bone char.

For those following plant-rich diets, manufacturers and consumers may not realise that some listed ingredients may not be vegan without doing prior research when creating and selecting a product. Examples of this include the ingredients shellac, a resin that is secreted by an insect on tree trunks, or even honey, which can be overlooked as non-vegan ingredients.

Not to reinforce the trope of the picky vegan: In 2013 the European food industry was scandalised when products advertised as containing beef were found to contain horse meat – as much as 100 percent of the meat content in some cases. During the analysis 23 out of 27 samples of beef burgers also contained pig DNA, sold and served even to consumers who are forbidden from eating pork due to their religious beliefs. In a backdrop of public outrage it revealed a major breakdown in the traceability of the food supply chain, the incomprehensibility of certain labelling practices and a risk of harmful ingredients – even in the developed world. Whatever your personal needs, preferences and prohibitions are; you are equally as exposed to the foibles of the food industry as anyone else. It doesn’t matter what diet you follow; something we can all agree on is that we want to know what we’re buying, and for that to be the real thing.

Too often are consumers left at a disadvantage and their voices need to be as powerful as the governments and food corporations they interact with, vote for, and support at the checkout counter.  

Just perusing an ingredients list is not enough when the food terms and manufacturing processes have become too opaque and inscrutable for the average consumer to easily comprehend. In a market where governmental standards bureaus often prove to fall short, in a faltering economy that incentivises fraud, in an industry where the perils of chicanery are high there is a vital need for independent certification bodies.

Due to the exclusion of all animal products, vegan consumers need to be exceptionally circumspect and discerning in a market which mostly caters for those who aren’t.  For the plant-conscious eater, the fidelity of their choices are championed by V-Label. Established in Switzerland in 1996, more than 50,000 products from over 4,300 licensees now carry their guarantee. V-Label provides a standardised international criteria for vegan products, which includes accounting for processing aids, carrier substances, food additives and food enzymes. V-Label also assists consumers with easy identification of vegan products, without the need to thoroughly scour ingredient lists before purchase. Recognize their emblem on the packaging and you can be certain of the thorough verification efforts that earned it.

If food credibility can be ensured for vegan products, then that bodes well for the rights of all consumers when demanding similar high standards.


Media Contact

ProVeg South Africa – Wikus Engelbrecht – Communications Manager:; +27 64 172 0120

About ProVeg South Africa:

ProVeg South Africa is the local branch of ProVeg International. ProVeg is an international food awareness organisation working to transform the global food system by replacing conventional animal-based products with plant-based and cultured alternatives.

ProVeg works with international decision-making bodies, governments, food producers, investors, the media, and the general public to help the world transition to a society and economy that are less dependent on animal agriculture and more sustainable for humans, animals, and the planet.