The practice of astroturfing—hiding who is really behind the message—is being used by those who profit from the killing, torture, cruelty and harm of animals. Because of this, it’s imperative that the vegan community remains vigilant. We must, at all costs, prevent a situation where products and services are undeservedly labelled vegan, because that brings us no closer to achieving our vision than we are today.
One could mistakenly believe that a standard that is widely adopted is the best and most rigorous one. Nothing could be further from the truth. Corporations are legally bound to maximize profits for shareholders; when considering which vegan standards to adopt, their main criterion is not whether it best achieves the vegan vision, but which one will cost the least to implement. Unfortunately, this translates into which vegan standards have the least restrictions and can be implemented with the least changes to corporations’ current behaviours.
If vegan organizations do not work together to establish a common international standard—and if people who self-identify as vegans do not make it clear that deficient standards will not be tolerated—corporations will continue to support standards that are filled with loopholes so they can persist in exploiting animals to maximize profits. The efforts from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Working Group 23 to redefine what is suitable for vegans, are in fact unacceptable to vegans.
As the standard will be published soon, we are going public with why it is inconsistent with the shared vision of the members of Vegan World Alliance and why, effective immediately, we are banning ISO-23662 and what it means.
ISO-23662 allows the following:
The first point is crucial. Many if not all corporations would have us believe that animals used for testing purposes are not killed just for the pleasure, but that all animal testing they conduct is required. Therefore, the first point basically condones the status quo and current practices will continue unchanged.
The last point is also important. As mentioned, corporations seek to maximize profits and any legitimate standards that could be used to self-certify should ensure, in part, that the strong interest to generate profit does not overrule compliance. As it stands, however, corporations wanting to self-certify their product under ISO-23662 could decide to have no compliance structure at all or merely need the agreement of compliance from two of their accountants—people who typically are only interested in the bottom line. With this sort of lax standard, it’s reasonable to assume that this decision could potentially be made by flipping a coin.
In light of all the points above, ISO-23662 section 4.5 is really a standard defining what a claim of “100% plant based” would entail.
We understand the difficulty for small businesses who want to manufacture products that fit their ethical beliefs, when they have little control over their supply chain and must deal with all its problems. However, some of those present in ISO WG 23, including some of the largest packaged food manufacturers in the world, do not get imposed a supply chain; they are part of the problem as they collectively shape much of the supply chain we see today.
Many of the people involved in drafting ISO-23662 are directly or indirectly paid by large food manufacturers, have no connection with the vegan community, and know very little about what it means to be vegan. This is unacceptable. This is why the Vegan World Alliance is working on a draft standard which will ensure that over time, as more and more people choose food certified vegan, our vision will come closer to being realized. Nevertheless, this travesty requires that we act now. To that end, we are banning ISO-23662.
Those actions are necessary because in our view there is no legitimate use of standard ISO-23662. Any organization that makes use of this standard for the purpose of making a vegan claim can only be doing so to allow the killing, torture, cruelty, harm and exploitation of animals. They are profiting from consumers who are being misled into thinking that the vegan products and services they are choosing do not exploit animals. This is highly unethical and something we will not tolerate.
We strongly suggest any businesses that wish to make a “vegan” claim under ISO-23662 change it to a “100% plant based” claim.
ISO needs some serious reform if it is to get involved in fields traditionally dominated by charitable organizations and nonprofits. In many countries, organizations wishing to be members of a national organization must pay yearly membership fees and this discriminates against charitable organizations that do not have the same means as for-profit corporations. Furthermore, not only are fees a discrimination for charitable organization, but unlike for-profit corporation who pay their employees to take part in meetings, most charitable organization are run by volunteers; for many, even if there were no fees, it would be difficult for their experts to fully participate.
The experience of one of our members in the Netherlands (NVV) is a good example of the discrimination against charitable organization from ISO and national bodies. In October 2018, the Dutch standard organization (NEN) contacted NVV to ask whether they would be in favour of an ISO standard for foods suitable for vegans (ISO-23662). NVV had less than two weeks to discuss, but they responded positively.
At the end of December 2018, after having received no reply from NEN, the Federation of the Dutch Food Industry (FNLI) had already been nominated by NEN as a representative of the Dutch standards committee. When NEN was questioned about this, it was discovered that a meeting was held without NVV present when this was decided. At the beginning of 2019, NVV attended a meeting at NEN headquarters about ISO-23662 and objected to this. In response, NEN indicated that it would be a representative, and NVV reiterated that they intended to participate as a knowledge organization.
It was later revealed that the food industry representative was from Nestlé. This was further complicated by the fact that Dutch standards committee members were obligated to pay 2,500 euros per year to participate, which led many to drop out.
The result is that the Dutch standards committee, tasked to work on a standard for food suitable for vegans, does not include any vegan experts, and this is unacceptable.
The experience of another of our members, the Vegan Society of Canada, was not much better. While they were in the working group, they were completely ignored; ultimately, it was the food manufacturers who dictated what is suitable for vegans. Another unacceptable outcome.
In addition, as consumer preferences shift, for-profit corporations wishing to increase their profits are increasingly trying to redefine existing concepts to their advantage. Besides veganism, we have seen various other standards fall prey to this problem, like those pertaining to the circular economy. It should be of grave concern to any reputable standard organization that people with no knowledge of a subject matter be allowed to give their opinion, let alone draft international standards.
We strongly suggest that standard organizations make memberships affordable for charitable organizations and nonprofits, as well as ensure that only subject matter experts are allowed to take part in the drafting of standards. It goes without saying that only vegan organizations and the broader vegan community are qualified to draft standards pertaining to what is suitable for vegans.
This is why we are reiterating our call for vegan organizations that share our vision and mission to join the Vegan World Alliance so we can work together on issues of importance to our community.