The Middle East Vegetarian Group (Meveg), a voluntary vegetarian not-for-profit focus body affiliated to the International Vegetarian Union (IVU), on Sunday called on the UAE authorities to introduce mandatory ‘Veg’ symbols on food labels to identify products that are suitable for the rising number of vegetarians in the Emirates.
Representatives of Meveg said on the eve of the first Meveg Congress in the UAE that it has highlighted the need for the proposed ‘Veg’ symbol initiative in its interactions with the UAE government authorities and is awaiting further discussions on the topic. The congress will run from December 6–8 at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre with an array of expert speakers stressing the benefits of vegetarianism to promote eco-friendly lifestyle, sustainability, peace and harmony.
Sandhya Prakash, Founder-Director, Meveg, said: “Vegetarians are a rising lot in the UAE and the awareness of the benefits of vegetarian lifestyle has percolated to people of all walks of life.
Vegetarians experience daily difficulties in shopping and eating out. The UAE, being home to over 200 nationalities and a world renowned tourist destination, it is vital to have food labels clearly indicating whether a product is suitable for vegetarians.
“We certainly need to have an overseeing body for the Middle East to ensure adherence to needs of vegetarians who avoid gelatin, isinglass, animal rennet or cochineal. Some of the additives and formulations used in food products may not be suitable for vegans and a certification on the food labels will allow vegetarians to identify their choice of products without the need to read the ingredients listing,” she said.
The vegan diet is plant-based, dispensing with all animal produce – including meat, fish, poultry, eggs, animal milks, honey and their derivatives, said Prakash, adding that without a mandatory ‘Suitable for Vegetarians’ label, it would be difficult for vegetarians to trust if the products they buy are completely vegan and has no meat-based derivatives as additives. A ‘Veg’ symbol on the food labels will assure that a packaged food product is authentically vegetarian.
The Meveg spokesperson said the proposal is in the same lines as practiced in the UK and India, for instance. In the UK, at present, there is only one way for consumers to be sure that a product or menu item is definitely suitable for vegetarians – if it carries ‘The Vegetarian Society’s own trademarked seedling symbol, ‘Vegetarian Society Approved’. In India, products carry a green dot which indicates the same.
In recent years in North America and Europe also, there has been an exponential increase in the use of vegan symbols on food packages, keeping pace with the retail growth of meat-free products. The motivation to use vegan labels also complements marketing with ethics because vegan lifestyle ties into animal rights and welfare, environmentalism, human rights and human health.
The proposed strategic plan of Meveg includes conceiving and implementing a vegetarian good practice guideline which will be followed on food labels, menus, etc. The plan also includes monitoring of the uptake and adherence to such good practices.
Prakash said its ‘Veg’ symbol proposal comes in the context of the focus group’s holistic approach encompassing social and economic goals alongside environmental imperatives. “We are aligned with sustainability and green initiatives in the UAE and shares the view that the UAE strategic plan should incorporate sustainable development, in order to provide for the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability to provide adequately for future generations,” she added.