Globally, the number of people on vegetarian and vegan diets is increasing. For consumers, this raises the question of how they can be assured the products they eat comply with their lifestyle.


A 2010 study estimated that around 1,450 million people were vegetarian by necessity (due to cost and/or availability of meat) and a further 75 million by choice, accounting for approximately 21.8% of the global population. 1 In the UK, a report by the Vegan Society in 2016, claimed that veganism had seen a rise of 360% in the preceding 10 years, and it is estimated that Germany currently has more than 8 million vegans and vegetarians. 2

People may be vegetarian or vegan due to religious beliefs, because of ethical concerns, such as animal rights and environmental protection, or health issues. Whatever the reason, these consumers need to be certain the products they buy have not come into contact with animal products.

Hidden Ingredients

A common problem is that a product may look to be purely plant-based but actually contain a hidden meat product, such as gelatin. This is often used in fruit juices and beers and so, while it may not be part of the final product, it has been in contact with the plant-based consumable. In other examples, wine can be clarified using egg white and anchovies added to sauces to provide a savory, tangy note.

The jeopardy of accidentally consuming hidden ingredients is one of the reasons internet forums and social media are full of comments from vegetarians and vegans demanding greater clarity and more easily accessed information on packaging.

What is Vegetarian or Vegan?

Part of the problem surrounding certification against vegan and vegetarian standards, is that there are no global binding definitions of these terms. For example, in the US, the most recent poll of ‘vegans’ covered only those that avoided meat, eggs and dairy. In most countries, the term vegan only covers those who also abstain from animal-based clothing and foodstuffs such as honey. 3

Even within Europe, there are no accepted definitions for these terms that can be used for labeling purposes. In creating its new ‘For Vegetarian/Vegan Nutrition’ certification marks, SGS has adopted a guideline issued by the German Ministerial Conference on Consumer Protection in May 2016. According to this guideline, substances of animal origin are not allowed at any stage of processing.

Certification: For Vegetarian/Vegan Nutrition

SGS has developed its new product certification mark exclusively for food and beverages in Germany. The label can only be applied to product packaging following successful verification against a demanding list of criteria. It is a reliable, safe guide for consumers, and allows manufacturers to clearly position their products for the correct target group.

Certification can only be achieved after SGS has tested all ingredients and raw materials that constitute the product for animal substances. This includes a thorough examination of non-declarable additives.

In some cases, the use or presence of (hidden) ingredients which are not suitable for vegans or vegetarians cannot be found via laboratory analysis. In this case, products undergo risk analysis and testing, including a review of labels, documents, specifications, formulations and production protocols. Inspections of manufacturing facilities and supplemental laboratory testing may also be appropriate. Before the certification mark can be awarded, it must be clear that the products are not only animal-free but also that staff members are clear about the requirements for handling vegan food. The ‘For Vegan Nutrition’ label can only be applied once the product, its labels and packaging have been passed as free from animal substances.

SGS’s ‘For Vegetarian/Vegan Nutrition’ product certification mark is available on a voluntary basis to companies looking to distinguish products in the marketplace.

For the complete range of SGS services and support visit SGS Food Safety.

Betina Jahn
Head of Innovative Product Management
t: +49 4473 94 39- 49


1 An Estimate of the Number of Vegetarians in the World
2 Number of Vegans in Britain Rises by 360% in 10 Years
3 Wikipedia - Vegetarianism by Country