Machiavellian Marketing, Vegetarian Rights.
In May 2007 a company called Masterfoods, the umbrella company responsible for producing Mars chocolate (including Minstrells, Milky Way, Twix, Malteasers and Galaxy) announced the decision to use animal rennet in their products.
All chocolate and cheese contains whey, but the majority of manufactures use a vegetarian-safe form of whey from non-animal sources. However, Mars and Masterfoods made headlines in 2007 by announcing the use of animal rennet, an enzyme extricated from the stomach lining of newly-born calves and a procedure rendering slaughter inevitable. It is the enzyme produced by calves to aid the digestion and absorption of milk. This enzyme is what makes chocolate and cheese hard but many manufacturers use equally effective vegetarian alternatives such as Chymosin; genetically engineered micro-organisms specifically designed to exactly replicate the enzyme produced by the calf´s stomach. Nevertheless, Masterfoods made a decision which the Vegetarian Society condemned as “Incomprehensible”.
Production began in early May 2007, virtually simultaneous with the announcement and before it had attracted any attention. For four weeks the product was used with few people being aware. No large-scale announcements were made or notices placed on packaging. A conscious effort was made to keep the use of rennet as unnoticed as possible, hidden from loyal consumers and vegetarians. For four weeks many strict and devoted vegetarians (including myself) consumed the various products under the Mars umbrella, painfully unaware of its non-vegetarian contents.
After four weeks the news attracted more widespread attention and incurred the anger of the Vegetarian Society and the response to the decision was so overwhelming and the protest and fervent remonstration from the British Vegetarian Society so powerful that Masterfoods was forced to capitulate and backtrack their decision. An announcement was made that Mars would no longer use animal rennet in their chocolate. This was an righteous victory for vegetarians worldwide but meant that because Mars had used the ingredient in their chocolate for four weeks, there were products on shop shelves containing animal rennet and consumers had no way of determining which chocolate bars were safe to eat and which weren´t. Masterfoods did eventually come up with a system where if the use-by date on a product was prior to a certain date then it could “possibly” contain animal rennet and if it was after a certain date then it was safe.
In an official statement Paul Goalby, corporate affairs manager at Masterfoods announced; “If the customer is an extremely strict vegetarian, then we are sorry the products are no longer suitable, but a less strict vegetarian should enjoy our chocolate”. Coming from one of the world´s largest chocolate manufactures and indeed one of the most prominent global brand names, the decision left vegetarians wondering who to trust. That the decision was revoked however, although a triumph, left a bitter aftertaste because consumers were unsure which items on the shelves were safe.
Manufactures need to be clearer and more honest about the contents of their products. Vegetarians make a decision to live a specific lifestyle. At the moment of becoming vegetarian, at whatever stage in life, a vegetarian makes a profound and emotional agreement with themselves to abide by rules as a direct reflection of their beliefs. The action of making this decision and making a life-long commitment to abstain from meat and many other foods, which is a reflection of the strength of their feelings about the slaughter of animals and not necessarily that they don´t enjoy the taste, is something which is extremely difficult for many and can result in a continual struggle with one´s conscience. It takes great strength and power of will and determination to deny yourself items of food which the body naturally craves, but why bother committing yourself whole-heartedly and ardently to a cause which determines the very nature of your lifestyle in a society where it is impossible to be sure that even food purporting to be safe might actually not be? It is disconcerting to know that there is food on the shelves that as a vegetarian I risk inadvertently consuming on a daily basis, which appear to be safe but may contain animal products or ingredients which are deliberately concealed.
However, the concealment of ingredients is often supported by law. A clause in the 1984 Food Labelling Regulations (UK) excludes from the 1984 Food Act all drinks with an alcohol content exceeding 1.2% by volume (ABV), meaning that only very low or non-alcoholic beers, wines and ciders are required to list all ingredients. Subsequently, a large proportion of wine and beer is produced using isinglass and chitin, without it being declared on the label. Isinglass is derived from collagen contained in the swimbladders of fish, and Chitin from the shells of crabs and lobsters. This clause means that these ingredients, used in fining, are contained in many beers and wines with consumers unaware.
Vegetarianism is now increasingly accepted and understood by society. Being a vegetarian or vegan today is very different from ten years ago, when the automatic response to telling somebody you are a vegetarian was ´do you eat chicken?…. well do you eat fish?´. Like the Vegetarian Society I find it incomprehensible that in the year 2009 the deliberate and emotionally distressing deception of consumers by manufacturers is allowed to remain unchallenged. Every decision like the one made by Masterfoods is a step backwards and cancels out immeasurable valuable progress. Rather than advancing into the future, manufactures are sacrificing the well-being and satisfaction, the most basic moral and human rights of their customers in favour of profit.
There is incidentally no reason to opt for animal products when many other manufacturers have demonstrated the successful implementation of vegetarian alternatives. There is no excuse or reason to ignore the options available. There should nevertheless be more strictly regulated guidelines on how manufactures notify consumers of their products´ ingredients. Many manufacturers clearly display a ´V´ in a prominent position on the packaging and often the words ´suitable for vegetarians´ accompanying the list of contents but unless all manufacturers embrace this system honestly and openly we can never really be safe. For a company as large and globally significant as Mars to purvey products which display no list of ingredients on their wrapper is shocking, detrimental to vegetarian consumers and an action which I can only imagine must halve their market. If a filmmaker chooses to insert three swear words into a film and is subsequently forced to upgrade from a certificate 12 to a 15 as a result, they are drastically reducing their market by limiting the number of people able to see the film, with no discernable merit. Manufacturers are limiting the number of people able to consume their product and I fail to understand how this can be advantageous to them.
Any consumer, including vegetarian consumers, deserves the right to be fully aware of the complete contents of the food they consume. The idea that in the advanced world we live in people could be expected to eat food without access to information about every ingredient contained in it is unacceptable and unfathomably archaic. As human beings we have the right to expect not to be deceived by the people producing what goes into our bodies and as vegetarians we are every bit as entitled to the information and to know whether food is suitable to eat. Concealing ingredients for pecuniary and industrial advantage over human morality is outrageous, criminal and inhumanly immoral.