#Power of Businesses l 2019-02-04
Today, we’ll introduce the Korea Agency of Vegan Certification and Services, which is Korea’s first agency to win official approval to certify vegan products. Let’s hear from Hwang Young-hee, the head of the agency.
The Korea Agency of Vegan Certification and Services was set up in March 2018. It is located at the Hanyang Institute of Technology on the campus of Hanyang University. Its major job is to provide accreditation to vegan products. For those who are not familiar with the word “vegan,” it refers to food or cosmetics that do not include or use materials of animal origin in the entire process of manufacturing, processing and cooking. In a broader context, vegan also implies relevant culture and those who put vegan lifestyle into practice.
In June last year, we asked the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety to approve us as a vegan certification agency and also applied for a new trademark. In July, we visited renowned vegan certification agencies such as the Vegan Society and the Vegetarian Society to discuss relevant issues with officials there and research the vegan market in the U.K. In August, we strengthened the certification procedures by adding a test to detect animal genes in food or cosmetics. Most agencies around the world do not carry out this kind of testing. We also attended the meeting of promoters of the Korea Vegetarian and Vegan Association and held a conference.
There are five types of vegetarians, depending on what they eat. Pollo-vegetarians avoid red met like beef and pork but eat chicken, while pesco-vegetarians consume fish and seafood but not the flesh of land animals. A lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet excludes meat, poultry and fish but allows foodstuff extracted from animals such as eggs, milk and honey. Lacto-vegetarians eat dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese but abstain from eggs. And in the last and the strictest stage, vegans eat plant-based food only and exclude all foods of animal origin. This agency targets vegans, among others.
Globally, environmental, ethical and welfare issues will become increasingly important. Of course, there is no clear answer to the problems, but I believe going vegan could be a significant alternative. According to British magazine The Economist, 2019 will be the year of the vegan. Global investors have continuously invested in food products that may replace meat. Statistics in many foreign countries show that the focus of food production and consumption has shifted from meat and dairy products to their alternatives.
Korea has a variety of plant-based traditional food items and the local vegan market has considerable room to grow. Korea can develop temple food as gourmet cuisine, for instance. Veganism started from Europe as a new lifestyle trend but I’m sure it can develop in more diverse ways in Korea.
“Vegan” is a major keyword and hot consumer trend this year. A U.S. survey in 2015 found that 3.4 percent of consumers were vegetarians and only 0.4 percent of them were vegans. But a similar survey three years later showed that 25 percent of the respondents in their 20s and 30s were pursuing a vegetarian lifestyle.
Capitalizing on the trend, the food industry has already developed and released products for vegans. U.S. iconic fast food chain McDonald has offered the soy-based burger McVegan that does not include meat or cheese in Europe since 2017. The Economist has predicted that the development of meat substitutes will be the key for the vegan industry.
Having paid close attention to the vegan trend and Korean traditional food, which is mostly comprised of grains and vegetables, Hwang retired from the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety and created the Korea Agency of Vegan Certification and Services. Joined by food and cosmetics specialists, the agency is exploring a new path, namely, vegan certification.
It may be difficult for consumers to know whether a particular food product contains animal-or vegetable-derived substances just by looking at the ingredient label on the product. For example, there are two types of glycerin, made from animal fat and plant oil. Similarly, lecithin can be sourced from plants or animal products. But food companies don’t usually specify the origin of glycerin or lecithin they use. Even if consumers ask the companies to provide more detailed information about certain ingredients, companies are reluctant to disclose their business information. In the case of a food product with the word “mix” on its ingredient statements, it is even more difficult to figure out what substances are mixed in it.
That’s what the Korea Agency of Vegan Certification and Services is for. If the third institution, not producers or consumers, certify vegan products, companies use the certification as a marketing tool without having to reveal confidential business information to the general public. Consumers, for their part, can choose products based on easier and clearer standards.
The agency’s job is to certify vegan products and offer education and consulting on vegan issues. Vegan certifications enable producers to enhance public confidence in their products and allow people to make their consumption more eco-friendly and environmentally-conscious.
On November 8, 2018, the agency gained approval from the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety as the vegan certification institute, in accordance with the standards for labeling of food and livestock products. Previously, there were four foreign institutions with the same accreditation and we became the first domestic agency to win official approval for vegan certification.
This agency can label imported products as “vegan approved” and will also contribute to promoting Korea’s vegan food or cosmetics exports overseas. We plan to participate in VeggieWorld, a trade fair for a vegan lifestyle, in Hong Kong in March, in collaboration with the Korea Vegetarian and Vegan Association and the Korea Agro-Fisheries and Food Trade Corporation. We’ll use the event as an opportunity to increase Korean exports of vegan food products and publicize Korean vegan culture as well as this agency the world over.
In foreign countries, private institutions or associations certify vegan products. Thanks to the creation of this agency, local producers can earn vegan certifications through the domestic agency without resorting to foreign institutions in Europe and the U.S.
The agency provides the “vegan-certified” label to various areas, including health functional food, food ingredients and imported food products.
Once a certain product was certified as vegan, we post it on our webpage and social networking sites. So far, we’ve certified vegan yogurt, soy milk, rice cake, chocolate and kimchi produced by local manufacturers. Other products we’re currently working on include health food, imported food and cosmetics.
At present, we certify food and cosmetics products. We’ll request the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety to ensure our credibility for cosmetics. We’ve received inquiries about vegan certification for accessories, hygiene products and leather goods. We’re considering expanding the area of vegan certification and exploring distribution and tourism industries as well in order to further promote the vegan culture.
Vegan certification is not just limited to food. The so-called “ethical consumption,” where people do not consume clothing, accessories and cosmetics using animal-derived substances or animal-testing, is emerging as a new lifestyle.
In line with this change, the agency is working to provide its certification services to various other areas and spread the vegan culture. We expect the agency will continue to grow to give a boost to the Korean vegan industry.