Are Alternative Proteins Actually Vegan?

Alternative Proteins



Consumers of all dietary preferences and lifestyles are increasingly looking for animal-free or vegan products in the name of sustainability and animal welfare. In this article, we’ll explore what it means for a product to be vegan, who defines and regulates it, and how TurtleTree’s very own lactoferrin supplement, LF+, has been certified as vegan.

What are Alternative Proteins?

Here on the TurtleTree blog, we talk a lot about alternative proteins and
alternative dairy, but what exactly is alternative protein? In a broad sense, alternative proteins are proteins made with plants or novel technologies like precision fermentation or cell culture that act as replacements for traditional animal proteins. Alternative proteins can include plant proteins like soy, precision fermentation-derived proteins like LF+, cell-cultured meats, insect proteins, or even algae proteins. 


What is Vegan? 

To follow a tried and true
cliche of starting with a dictionary definition, let’s begin with the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), which defines vegan as “a person who abstains from all food of animal origin and avoids the use of animal products in other forms”. 


In the strictest sense, this includes abstinence from animal meat, animal byproducts like milk, and animal-derived products like leather. This same definition could be applied to products. However, the OED doesn’t specifically define what constitutes a vegan product. 


This underlines a broader challenge: the term ‘vegan’ is less clear-cut in practice than it appears in theory. The concept of being vegan varies among individuals, and accordingly, a product’s vegan status may depend on the specific criteria set by different officials. This variability presents significant challenges for governments and regulatory bodies in terms of labeling and marketing vegan products.


After acknowledging that the lack of legally binding definitions constitutes a real problem for labeling, the European Commission began drafting legal definitions for “vegan” and “vegetarian” in 2019. While certain vegan and vegetarian groups have proposed recommended definitions, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has yet to formally adopt these definitions as of January 2024. 


Similarly in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not formally set a definition for vegan products. The use of vegan labeling has surfaced, however, as part of FDA’s labeling recommendations for plant-based milk. 


In the absence of governmental guidance on defining and regulating vegan products, third-party certifying bodies have emerged to fill this gap. These organizations, including Vegan Action, The Vegan Trademark, BeVeg, and PETA-approved Vegan, offer certification systems to assure consumers of the vegan integrity of products. 

These organizations differ slightly in their definition of ‘vegan’ and their auditing processes, but they provide the most comprehensive assurance currently available to consumers seeking to verify the vegan status of various products, ranging from food to supplements, and personal care items. In this landscape, these third-party certifiers have become crucial in establishing trust and recognition for vegan products among consumers.



What is the Difference Between Vegan and Vegetarian? 

Despite the lack of a standardized vegan definition, there is consensus on how vegan differs from “vegetarian”. “Vegetarian” refers to products that do not contain or use animal-sourced ingredients where the animal is killed. Vegetarian foods may include animal-sourced ingredients like milk, eggs, and honey where the animal is not killed in the process. Some definitions of vegetarian also stipulate that ingredients were not tested on animals. 


The use of the word “vegan” on a product is more strict than “vegetarian” and requires that the product is free from animals and animal byproducts, including foods like honey, milk, or eggs. As we’ll see later in this article, some definitions of vegan also preclude products from having undergone animal testing (like cosmetics) or from having been processed with animal-derived materials (like cane sugar or some wine). 


There is one other term that sometimes appears adjacent to “vegan” and “vegetarian”: “animal-free”, particularly in the precision fermentation space. To us and our friends in the precision fermentation space, “animal-free” refers to ingredients that are biologically identical to an animal-derived ingredient but are produced in novel ways without the use of animals. 

Are All Alternative Proteins Vegan?


Naturally, the next question you might be wondering then is, are all alternative proteins vegan? Are they vegetarian? Animal-free? The short answer is that it depends and there’s no one label, vegan included, for which all alternative proteins meet the definition. 


While alternative proteins are often perceived as inherently vegan, the reality is more nuanced. Firstly, although these proteins typically avoid animal-derived ingredients, their vegan status is less clear-cut when it comes to processing. Some alternative proteins may be processed using animal-sourced materials, which would disqualify them from being truly vegan. 


The most challenging hurdle, however, lies in the realm of safety testing. Traditional market clearance for novel ingredients, including those used in alternative proteins like precision fermentation-derived substances, has heavily relied on animal testing. This practice is fundamentally at odds with vegan principles, which oppose all forms of animal exploitation and harm. 


Recently, regulatory bodies such as the FDA and EFSA have initiated efforts to establish alternative frameworks for assessing the safety of new food products without animal testing. This is a significant step forward, as it paves the way for innovative, animal-free proteins to meet strict vegan standards. 


Nonetheless, until these new regulatory pathways become fully established and accepted, many alternative proteins, despite being free from animal ingredients, struggle to conform to the stringent definition of veganism. This explains why so many animal-free alternative proteins don’t have a recognizable vegan stamp of approval. The transition towards recognized alternatives to animal testing marks a hopeful future for the availability of truly vegan alternative proteins in the market.



TurtleTree’s LF+ Certified as Vegan with Vegan Action 

Given the nuanced difficulties of meeting strict vegan requirements as a novel protein, TurtleTree is thrilled to announce a milestone achievement: LF+, our very own world’s first sustainably produced lactoferrin using precision fermentation, has been officially certified as vegan by Vegan Action. 


This accomplishment is a testament to TurtleTree’s unwavering commitment to animal welfare, a core value that has guided us from our inception. Our innovative approach has enabled us to bypass animal testing while ensuring the safety of LF+ for regulatory approval. In our production process, we meticulously avoid any animal-sourced raw materials and guarantee that our final product is entirely free of animal-derived byproducts.


For our B2B clients, this Vegan Action certification of LF+ is more than just a label; it’s a promise. It assures our partners that LF+ is not only suitable but ideal for inclusion in vegan products, adhering to the strictest vegan standards. Additionally, this certification provides peace of mind to our end consumers, particularly those following a vegan lifestyle, affirming that LF+ is a perfect fit for their dietary preferences.


However, it’s important to highlight that LF+ is inclusive to the vegan community and beyond. LF+ is a versatile dairy protein offering a spectrum of health benefits, including iron regulation, improved gut health, and enhanced immunity. It’s designed to cater to everyone’s needs, regardless of dietary choices – vegans, vegetarians, flexitarians, reducetarians, omnivores, and even carnivores can all enjoy the advantages of LF+. At TurtleTree, we believe in inclusivity and the universal appeal of healthy, sustainable nutrition.