Vegan labelling: misleading labelling practice?

Decision of the Regional Administrative Court of Vienna of 3 April 2023 in case 15777/2022-14

The most recent decision on the labelling of "vegan" products highlights the "vegan" labelling requirements on food packaging. The proceedings before the Regional Administrative Court of Vienna relate to an order to make changes to the labelling of a product labelled as "vegan". The decision is based on the Food Safety and Consumer Protection Act (Lebensmittel-sicherheits- und Verbraucherschutzgesetz). In particular, it refers to Section 5 para. 2 no. 3 of the Act, which stipulates that consumers must not be misled by special labelling.

The court ruled that labelling a product as "vegan" is not misleading if the product in question differs from comparable products. The difference lies in the absence of ingredients of animal origin. Only this difference can justify labelling a product as "vegan". When assessing whether a product has been correctly labelled as "vegan", the actual composition and possible differences to comparable products must be taken into consideration.

In the decision cited, the term "vegan" was used on the packaging of a herbal fruit tea, which gave consumers the (misleading) impression that the food had special properties, despite the fact that all comparable food products have the same properties. The tea in question contains an essential oil – lemon oil – which can, in principle, contain ingredients of animal origin. However, this tea was notable in that the essential oil used did not contain any ingredients of animal origin. Therefore, the tea had a property not shared by all comparable products, which is why it was not considered misleading for the tea to labelled "vegan".