Is it possible Vegan Society approved products are greenwashed, ethical washed and vegan washed? Based on this deep dive, within this ‘seal’ racial capitalism thrives.
We have the same problem with big agriculture we do with big energy, and whether you’re eating a vegan diet or not, power has become so centralised that policy supports companies creating with capitalism in mind.
Capitalism breeds greenwashing, which is a form of communication which deceptively promotes the perception that an organisation’s products, aims or policies are environmentally friendly.
Though The Vegan Society does not specifically state that products marked with their sunflower symbol are ‘sustainable’, their website uses similar language which suggests their food does somehow improve the planet, with subheadings like ‘grow green’ and ‘plate up for the planet’.
Through their communication, they allow their symbol’s significance to remain vague and thus it is important to understand that when you are purchasing food with the sunflower symbol, and by piling pounds in the pocket of The Vegan Society, it only promises the products under their umbrella are free from are ingredients which cause direct harm to vertebrates and multicellular invertebrates who could be used in the ingredients of food production.
It does not protect animals harmed directly or indirectly by the farming practices these vegan products are produced on, nor those harmed by the effects of their processed food’s production, nor those harmed in the after-life of the products created (from plastic pollution and food waste).
IE// The Vegan Society mark does NOT signify that the product is:
– Produced through Sustainable or Regenerative Farming Practices
– Produced without human slavery
– Packaged sustainably
– Does not consider land rights
“The best way to get [our] trademark out there is to stick to the standards that we feel affect the reduced exploitation of animals. So kind of the fringe issuesaround single-use plastics or human animals or the type of agriculture practiced kind of takes us away from the core standards of what we think will reduce exploitation of animals. Whilst I’m not against it, and I try to do my bit as an ethical consumer, as a vegan for the animals, I feel like the core standards of veganism, as we say they are, are what will really make the change. And then I would absolutely recommend other organisations that are looking at like plastic use, sustainability, and other environmental factors around plastics and things to be the authority on that, rather than trying to bring that in”.– Chantelle Adkins, The Vegan Society
WHY THESE AREN’T ‘FRINGE ISSUES’
Though I understand The Vegan Society can’t be responsible for every aspect of sustainability and ethics, there is some disparity between what they adamantly claim to be doing for animals, and the effects of their inaction on the animals they (cl)aim to protect.
ORGANIC / CHEMICAL-FREE FOOD If a product is not organic, that usually means it is drenched in chemicals in its creation which runs off into the waterwaysdirectly harming life above and below ground, as well as human health.
GMO If a product is not free of GMOs, it is dependant on the herbicide round-up, which kills life below ground. In addition, most GMO crops are (most often) grown as a monoculture, meaning they degrade the soil and reduces the health of the biosphere, as well as species loss, soil depletion, global warming. When it comes to human health, the glyphosate-formulated herbicide and pesticides used on GMO crops have been linked to numerous health problems related to agrarian racism, including cancer, particularly non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in three separate peer-reviewed studies (1,2,3), ADHD, rhinitis, and hormone disruption.
REGENERATIVE FARMING PRACTICES
If ingredients are not produced regeneratively, they are degenerative, meaning they leave the planet worse off for the fact that they’ve been grown. Regenerative Agriculture is a system of farming principles, inspired by Indigenous practices, which increases increase biodiversity, enrich soils, improves watersheds, and enhances ecosystem services. It aims to capture carbon in the soil in aboveground biomass (plants) while reversing global trends of atmospheric accumulation causing climate breakdown.
At the same time, it offers increased yields, resilience to climate instability, and higher health and vitality for farming and ranching communities. This type of farming protects the biosphere which wild animals inhabit along the production chain, while also increasing animal welfare standards, and promoting decreased meat consumption (the animal rights aspect of the Regenerative Organic Certification is run by an animal rights activist and lawyer).
“Human-animals” as Chantelle put it, are not fringe issues. 13 million people were captured and sold as slaves between the 15th and 19th centuries; today, an estimated 40.3 million people – more than three times the figure during the transatlantic slave trade – are living in some form of modern slavery, according to the latest figures published by the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Walk Free Foundation. In the UK alone (which does little of its own farming), an estimated 10,000 to 13,000 people are being exploited in the food and farming industry.
Most food holding The Vegan Society’s mark is wrapped in plastic. As most of us know, plastic is not a ‘fringe’ issue. Microplastics have been found in every body of water on this planet, the deep seafloor, arctic beaches, sea ice, water column, sea surface, and the seafloor. Tiny plastic particles also a present threat to creatures in the soil and on land which is similar and possibly more problematic than the oceans. Researchers warn that the impact of microplastics in soil and sediments could have long-term negative effects on terrestrial ecosystems throughout the world. Scientists measuring microplastics in snow samples from remote locations as well as in Canada and France, found levels of microplastics are falling from the sky. Raising concerns that microplastics are being carried around the planet in atmospheric winds and being breathed in. A recent study also found that 94% of tap water in the ‘USA’ has microplastics in it as well. Worryingly, a new type of plastic – pyroplastic—has emerged as a newly described form of plastic pollution which ends up looking like grey beach rocks, is created by burning plastic and dumping it into bodies of water where it becomes part of the geological cycle.
Since the commencement of colonization and still today, the UK (and most ‘Western countries’) relies on approximately 20 million ‘ghost hectares’ (hectares of other people’s land) keep its citizens fed, clothed and consuming, enabling the country to overcome production limitations that would have otherwise inhibited domestic growth. This is an extension of colonialism and also an act of environmental racism as the majority of these ‘borrowed’ hectares are not farmed ethically or sustainably, reaping pollution and encouraging acts of slavery on foreign lands. If you are purchasing food products which come from another country (bananas, mangos, avocado ect …) it is likely you have supported this system with your diet choices. In addition, nearly all of the land being used as ‘ghost hectares’ is stolen Indigenous lands.
SO WHAT DO WE DO?
If you are eating foods marked with The Vegan Society symbol, you hold enough privilege of finance and time to make alternative choices. Eat whole (unpackaged if possible) foods which are local and seasonal to you, farmed regeneratively or at the very least, organically.
Please note, that if you live on lands colonized by European (or other) parties, this will likely mean you need to be cognisant of land rights as all lands colonized by Europeans (and others) belong to those Indigenous to those lands. Thus, it is even more important that you are conscious about what you are consuming, where it comes from, and how its growth affects the land it is grown on.
One idea to help rebalance the imbalance is to redirect the monies saved by buying whole foods (rather than pre-packaged food marked by the Vegan Society, for which they make a handsome profit) towards Indigenous-led organizations whose lands your food is grown on (this involves self-education of Indigenous territories, native-land.ca offers an interactive map of Indigenous nations worldwide). Francesca Willow has put together a list of Indigenous-led organizations worldwide which you can find via this link.
Even if you, like The Vegan Society see ‘human-animals’ as ‘fringe issues’ of the ‘vegan agenda’, Indigenous peoples are responsible for protecting 80% of the remaining biodiversity on this planet (21). That biodiversity houses 8.7 million (give or take 1.3 million) of the total estimated number of species on Earth, with 6.5 million species on land and 2.2 million in oceans. So by protecting Indigenous land rights, you are protecting animal rights as well.
Healthy, plant-based food is a basic human right. No matter how you eat, the price-distorting government subsidies supported by lobbying from the agrochemical sector to push the sale of their chemical assistance remains rife. These subsidies benefit the conventional livestock industry, mono-crop farming, GMO farming, chemical cropping and so on, create an environment where ramped meat consumption and degenerative farming practices are encouraged. It should cost more to use pesticides and more to farm in ways which degrade land and reduce the health of the citizens of the land. Government subsidies should be used to help lower-income citizens access nutrient-rich plant-based food, farmed regeneratively. Write your local representative to find out what avenues you can take to push policy locally and federally.
** IF YOU FOUND THIS PIECE EDUCATIONAL, PLEASE CONSIDER A ONE-TIME OR MONTHLY DONATION TO MY PATREON ACCOUNT **
- The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health, David R. Montgomery & Anne Bilke
- Anderson Abel de Souza Machado, Werner Kloas, Christiane Zarfl, Stefan Hempel, Matthias C. Rillig. Microplastics as an emerging threat to terrestrial ecosystems. Global Change Biology, 2018
Web link: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180205125728.htm
- R. W. Obbard, S. Sadri, Y. Q. Wong, A. A. Khitun, I. Baker, R. C. Thompson, Global warming releases microplastic legacy frozen in Arctic Sea ice. Earths Future 2, 315–320 (2014). https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/2014EF000240
- B.E. Grøsvik, T. Prokhorova, E. Eriksen, P. Krivosheya, P. A. Horneland, D. Prozorkevich, Assessment of marine litter in the Barents Sea, a part of the Joint Norwegian–Russian Ecosystem Survey. Front. Mar. Sci. 5, 72 (2018) https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmars.2018.00072/full.
- L. D. K. Kanhai, K. Gårdfeldt, O. Lyashevska, M. Hassellöv, R. C. Thompson, I. O’Connor, Microplastics in sub-surface waters of the Arctic Central Basin. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 130, 8–18 (2018).
- M. B. Tekman, T. Krumpen, M. Bergmann, Marine litter on deep Arctic seafloor continues to increase and spreads to the North at the HAUSGARTEN observatory. Deep-Sea Res. Part I 120, 88–99 (2017). https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S096706371630200X
- Via Sebatian Cox / Meat: A benign extravagance. Simon Fairlie 2010 + www.tfa2020.org + www.ota.com
- https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/11/can-indigenous-land-stewardship-protect-biodiversity-/ 22. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110823180459.htm
PLEASE NOTE: Nothing I write is meant to be insulting in any way. I aim to educate in ways that enhance critical thinking and nature relatedness, and that’s all. Though I recognize that sometimes that education is uncomfortable and that difference of opinion is a natural part of progression, I do require negative comments to come after the entire post, and all sourced material has been read and digested. This post + sources should take you 12+ hours to consume. I will not respond to aggressive or abusive comments, especially those which have already been addressed in the resources listed or in my previous work xo
IMAGES: Annie Spratt