Sunday, January 10, 2010

Oreos: Where PETA's Got it Wrong

Just before the holidays, Oreos came up in a discussion on Twitter. Was it true? Were they vegan? For some time, PETA's listed them in the snacks section of its "I Can't Believe It's Vegan!" lists of so-called "accidentally" vegan foods on its website. Surely, PETA would have verified this, no?
Or rather, PETA's got a definition of veganism that it keeps flexible enough to include animal products and thinks that your definition should be that flexible, too. The disclaimer on the main page of its "I Can't Believe It's Vegan!" website reads:

Items listed may contain trace amounts of animal-derived ingredients. While PETA supports a strict adherence to veganism, we put the task of vigorously reducing animal suffering ahead of personal purity. Boycotting products that are 99.9 percent vegan sends the message to manufacturers that there is no market for this food, which ends up hurting more animals. For a more detailed explanation of PETA’s position, please visit
Basically, PETA says that fussing over ensuring things you put into your mouth are actually vegan is nitpicking and becomes an obsession over "personal purity". How far PETA takes this was recently reflected in a press release back in May to promote The Animal Activists' Handbook, co-written by its Vice-President Bruce Friedrich and Vegan (?) Outreach's Matt Ball. In it, Friedrich was described as arguing "against questioning waiters in restaurants about the ingredients in menu items". I mean, if PETA thinks you should even ask if any ingredients are animal-derived at all, then one really has to wonder about the work it put into assessing or ascertaining whether anything in its list of purportedly accidentally vegan processed foods is, actually, vegan.

It's one thing to acknowledge that in a world where animal exploitation is rampant that it's impossible to always avoid consuming foods whose ingredients or processing have involved some sort of animal exploitation; it's another matter, however, to fall into the practice of deliberately turning a blind eye where a simple question or two can provide that information and allow you to choose and act accordingly.
So? I wrote to Nabisco and asked if its Oreos are animal-free. Specifically, I asked if the sugar used in them is processed with bone char. The response on December 23:
Hi Mylene,
Thank you for visiting and for your interest in our OREO product.
I understand that knowing what ingredients are in the food products you eat directly affect how you practice your lifestyle, and Kraft Foods does all that it can to assist its consumers in making educated food decisions.
I apologize but unfortunately this ingredient information is not currently available.
As you can imagine our products change frequently, and maintaining a list of products that contain enzymes would be virtually impossible.

Thank you for contacting us and please add our site to your favourites and visit us again soon!
Kim McMiller Associate Director, Consumer Relations
Enzymes. I hadn't even considered those when first writing to Nabisco (some enzymes used to condition dough in processed based goods are animal-derived). Not having received a response to my question concerning the sugar itself, I asked again and this time received this information in the following response on December 28:
Kraft has several sugar suppliers. Sugar in our products can come from either sugar cane or sugar beets, depending on availability.
Some of our suppliers DO use the animal-derived natural charcoal (also known as "bone char") in their cane sugar refining process and some suppliers DO NOT use this process.
Since we may use any of the sugar suppliers at any given time in production, we cannot give a definite answer as to whether or not bone char was used in the sugar refining process of a particular product.
So there you have it, straight from Oreos' makers, themselves. There is no way to confirm whether one package of Oreos or another contains animal-derived ingredients (e.g. enzymes used to process the dough) or sugar that's been processed using the charred bones of animals; there's no need to embarrass yourself, as PETA would have you think you are, by asking if any animals were used to concoct 'em.

Spread the word that PETA's information on what is or isn't vegan should be examined critically by all vegans. While you're at it, maybe ask yourself
something I've been asking myself since the Oreo discussion came up: Why support a company that ordinarily profits off the massive exploitation of animals anyway when other options are available? Better yet, do a Google search or three for vegan cookie recipes and go nuts while ensuring that no animals were used to satisfy your sweet tooth. Feel free to post any links you find to recipes yielding particularly scrumptious results in the comments below!


Fredrik said...

Also, if you boycot a company, please send them a line telling them that you do, and why.

Gone Pie Vegan Bakery said...

I wonder how vegans can even consider consuming products like Oreos. Is it that important to eat food like this? Or Skittles! Or any number of accidentally vegan products. The companies that produce them are not companies one can trust. KRAFT foods deserves the support of no right minded vegan! We need to support companies that purposefully make vegan products and actually care enough to ensure they are truly vegan!

Kris said...

Good point, Edanator. I never thought of doing that.

Great blog post, Mylène. I have to admit that over the past six and a half years of my veganism, I've eaten a handful or two of Oreos since PETA declared them "vegan-friendly" (though I still debated with myself about the grey area surrounding the source of the sugar). But, like Gone Pie said, it's better to not support the company at all, though Kraft is quite unfortunately ubiquitous. But let's just spread the vegan love (and stay in line with our morals) by supporting vegan companies and/or baking our own cookies. Plus, Late July sandwich cookies are scrumptious :) and healthier than Oreos.



Valerie said...

Oreo's are exactly what PETA said, 99.9% vegan. I'm no fan of PETA or of store bought sugar cookies. As a mother of 3 small kids though I can tell you when you take your kids somewhere it is nice to know which foods (using the term loosely) are vegan so they might be able to have some. It is hard enough to raise kids vegan and keep them from always feeling like they can't have anything their friends have. My kids couldn't have Oreos because despite the fact that they are vegan enough for me to say yes at a birthday party (I wouldn't buy them) they still contain gluten, which we can't have. There are gluten free versions by other companies and if someone is thoughtful enough to put some out for me and my family I'm not going to question the source of the sugar.

Ariix said...

Or you could, you know, bring some actually vegan (and gluten free) treats with you in your bag to offer your kids when other people's kids are getting offered non-vegan stuff... it's really not that difficult. And I've never had someone accuse me of being rude for declining something they offer because it has animal products or the source of ingredients like sugar is unknown. A simple "no thank you, we're vegan and the sugar might be produced with animal bones, but thank you for thinking of us" is not difficult and if someone has a problem with that, then they are the ones being rude.

Lucas said...

I don't get this 99.9% vegan talk. First of all, the cookies were no doubt NOT made with vegan principles in mind so the word "vegan" is inappropriate to describe a junk food product from an relentlessly exploitative corporation. But with that aside, does the processed sugar only account for .1 percent of the cookie? And who calculates that percentage? Peta? It's a slippery slope to "well, it's 89.62257% (or whatever percentage) 'vegan' so that's at least reducing suffering!"
Since the cookies have a 50% chance or more of being made with sugar processed with bone-char, and the cookies are completely 100% avoidable, then they are 100% not suitable for vegans.
Mylene, you make a great point when you say, "It's one thing to acknowledge that in a world where animal exploitation is rampant that it's impossible to always avoid consuming foods whose ingredients or processing have involved some sort of animal exploitation; it's another matter, however, to fall into the practice of deliberately turning a blind eye where a simple question or two can provide that information and allow you to choose and act accordingly"

Anonymous said...

peta is incredibly inconsistent- for example, in their office, they use cleaning, etc products that are on their "Do test on animals" product list.

Alistair said...

Ordinary Oreo's in the Asia Pacific region are vegan - including the ones found in Australia. They are made in Indonesia.

Unknown said...

Wonderfully written. Thanks for the information. To me, it's either vegan or it's not. To believe otherwise would be like thinking someone is 99.99% pregnant.

Dave Shishkoff said...


Gone Pie brought up an excellent point -- Nabisco is an AWFUL company.

Why PETA wants to promote 'food' from them, and others, especially when there are actual VEGAN businesses out there that desperately need our support..

PETA summed it all up in the first line of their disclaimer:

"Items listed may contain trace amounts of animal-derived ingredients."

They literally say that vegan food can contain trace amounts of animal ingredients.

And they don't mean like how chocolate is processed on the same machinery, with a slim chance of cross-contamination (which i don't think you can argue as 'non-vegan'..gross yes, non-vegan, no.)

They mean companies can INTENTIONALLY add animal products to food, and that it's 'okay' by PETA.

What's worse, Oreo's are far from being the most offensive. There are items in there that are CLEARLY non-vegan by reading the labels. (ie, actual non-vegan ingredients listed.)

PETA is a fraud.

Unknown said...

It cannot possibly be vegan unless it is 100% vegan. Good grief!

Once again, PETA hugely disappoints.

Susie, an ethical vegan

c said...

Fantastic post.

I'm going off on a slight tangent over here but we also must remind ourselves and fellow vegans to watch out for the exploitative parent companies of deceptively vegan products. Lightlife Foods (owned by ConAgra), Silk soymilk (owned by Dean Foods, specializing in dairy and soy products) and Tom's of Maine (now owned by Colgate--there is no mention of it on the box or on the tube). These are some and I'm sure there are more that we must keep an eye on.

It's important to bring the boycott even further.

Pierce said...

This shouldn't be a surprise after they went all out promoting veggie burgers at Burger King, sending free veggie burger coupons to their members, but forgot to mention the patties contained milk.

Dave Shishkoff said...


I think it was for 2yrs that they had that pop-up ad on the PETA site for Burger King. (GAAAH!) had an ad too.

I think it was the buns that had dairy (originally). Then BK changed the recipe, and the patties had dairy in them (and the bun was 'vegan', oddly). I read this, and went to both sites, and both still had the ads. Went back a week later, the ads STILL there. Wrote them both (Eric Markus and Bruce Friedrich, a PETA bigwig/VP) - neither seemed very concerned.

I guess it makes sense. If they were willing to post ads for BK on their sites in the first place, what difference does it make?

Lucas said...

Speaking of Peta promoting non-veganism.

It's great that so many folks pointed out the hypocrisy.

Perhaps vegans are getting wise to the sham?..

Gone Pie Vegan Bakery said...

Purity brought up an excellent point! I have boycotted Lightlife for years now! I recently added Silk,Tom's and several others. Here is a list that includes some, probably not all, of the companies out there that are now owned by exploitative parent companies.

Brad Melius said...

I like PETA's stance. If you can stay .1% more vegan, you can save a few animals in your lifetime. If you can attract those around you to an almost vegan lifestyle, you can save thousands of animals. We don't need to boycott companies, we need to make the masses avoid animal products. The companies will change. I love skittles.

Dave Shishkoff said...

Hi Brad - i think you're missing the point.

If 0.1% is 'acceptable', then why not 1%? Or 10%?

Let's now declare that whey, gelatin and casein are 'vegan'. Sweeet! Now we'll have more vegans!!

Okay, we can get even farther with this... Let's say all free-range and organic eggs and dairy are vegan too - i bet we're looking at a massive increase in vegans now!

Even better, let's said free-range/organic meat is vegan too. Goodness, we might be up to 10-20% of the population!

Veganism sure has gone far!


Veganism, if you do your homework, is about challenging and ending the mentality that animals are ours to use and exploit.

Tolerating even a 1% inclusion is still tolerating the exploitative mentality.

It's simply not vegan. And neither are many of the products PETA lists.

If you're just about 'reducing suffering', then you're not adopting a vegan perspective, i'm sorry to say. While vegans want to see a reduction in suffering, it's about much more than that.

At least, if you read what Donald Watson had to say, who coined the term 'vegan' in 1944 and founded the Vegan Society. PETA and other 'vegan' groups habitually ignore what he's said, and what the Vegan Society of the UK continue to promote, and twist veganism to their own ideals...which are far from vegan.

Vanilla Rose said...

In the UK, the Vegan Society doesn't have a problem with items that are acccidentally cross-contaminated with animal products (and I don't really have a problem with that either, but not all vegans agree and I can understand that) but the other issues would be a problem.

Brad Melius said...

I still agree with myself (weird how that works huh?)

These comments are actually my greatest enemy in my attempt to be vegan. I can avoid any foods I want...but to go to a dinner party is a nightmare. It was bad enough saying I was vegetarian, but you say vegan these days and people look at you like you're a nutjob who only eats celery.

If there is a term for a person who avoids animal products as much as he can but doesn't look for trace ingredients or throw out the leather gloves he bought before he became vegan, let me know (go easy on the name calling).

For me, veganism (or whatever I am, you can have your word) is about working to minimize suffering by your lifestyle choices. If enough of the population wants to avoid animal products the companies will respond. As you all know there are very simple substitutes for animal products and companies will use them when is profitable to (they can advertise as vegan).

While I admire hardcore vegans (Again, I realize many of you would say that's the only type of vegan), there needs to be a place for the average person. PETA's stance, while weak, draws a larger following (They complained about Obama swatting a fly, how much more nit picky do you want them to be?) and large followings cause change. Don't give me slippery slope arguments, sure the line is vague but whatever it is its way less than 1%.

Dave Shishkoff said...

Brad - i think the term for you is 'omnivore'. If you willingly consume animal products, with a reasonable option not to (ie, order something different), then i think in all honesty you're just a very selective omnivore, or maybe 'vegetarian' depending on the line you draw.

This exemplifies how well being 'flexible' has worked for 'vegetarian' - what does it even mean today? Vegetarians typically contribute to the deaths of animals (dairy cows, egg hens), and many who call themselves vegetarian eat the flesh of fishes and chickens..

The reason veganism came about was because vegetarian had lost so much meaning...and this was in the '40s!!

It's nothing short of tragic that people are now working to undermine and reduce veganism in a similar way.

If your goal is not to support vegan ideals, then i don't understand why one has to try and redefine what veganism stands for. Simply identify in another way.

These may seem like harsh words, but imagine if someone called themselves a feminist, but besides supporting equal wages, they didn't follow any other feminist principles. They made sexist jokes and commentary, etc..

Should that person really call themselves a 'feminist'? I don't think so. I think that's a reasonable response. Same thing with veganism - if it's being reduced to a diet, then the significance is being lost..

Crystal said...

Nowadays many small organic companies are owned my bigger, "evil" companies. It's a pretty hard thing to avoid. I think there are clearly two ways of looking at it:
1. boycott any company that has any ties to animal abuse
2. buy anything so long as it's vegan because you then create a demand for the vegan product.

There's nothing wrong with people occasionally eating oreos or other accidentally vegan foods. Some people do not chose to avoid all bone char sugar. Even if you do chose to avoid it, you will doubtlessly consume if by accident every so often.

I actually agree with the not pestering waiters notion. Ask a few questions, sure, but you don't want to make veganism seem needlessly difficult by drilling the waiter like crazy.

Adam Kochanowicz said...

Dear science, I'm glad you found that quotation, that really sums it up. PETA doesn't give a flying fuck about animals as long as some people are "reducing their suffering" now give us some money.

Adam Kochanowicz said...

Also, ahem,

I don't mean to plug on your blog, but I created this so we don't have to use happycow, vegguide, or caring consumer.

Thanks for the post, Mylene.

Adam Kochanowicz said...

Dave is correct, the word to define such a lifestyle is "omnivore." If your goal is to merely "reduce suffering," then I can only gather your stance looks something like this:

There is a population which is being exploited. Something we do is the cause for exploitation
We shouldn't do it most of the time.

I mean, is it okay for us to exploit animals as long as their "suffering" is reduced? I don't understand what right we have to use animals in the first place.

And yes, making more vegans is nice (I don't know how oreo promotion does this), but beyond having more buddies at our potlucks, what does it matter if these vegans aren't vegans? As Dave exemplified, where does this "allowable exploitation" lie? free-range eggs? Casein? Gelatin?

Adam Kochanowicz said...

Logical problem in PETA's argument:

"we put the task of vigorously reducing animal suffering ahead of personal purity."

"Personal purity," or what is actually just veganism does not inhibit the original goal.

If I said that I have ten dollars and with it I can either see a movie or buy a round of drinks; if I go to the movie, I cannot buy a round of drinks. If I buy a round of drinks, I cannot go to the movies.

In PETA's characterization, my choice to fully eschew animal products does not mean that I am allowing more animals to be exploited or to a more brutal degree. I'm guessing their point is that fewer people will go vegan if we call these products nonvegan which is an absurd assumption.

M said...

Always feel free to plug on my blog, Adam. I'll add that link to my original post and throw it on the side with my permanent links, as well. Thanks!

jessica said...

How about nobody eats processed shit food. That will solve your problem right there.

Unknown said...

Not every vegan is cutting animal products for the same reason. If you do your homework. It's a personal choice.

M said...

Veganism, by definition, is about the ethical rejection of animal exploitation. I suggest you do your own homework and read up on its history. Cheers!

Anonymous said...

Petas comments are so surprising. Their argument sounds just as stupid as the idea that "letting people kill wild life saves wild life"

Tina said...

I am not a vegan but I do have a tick disease that has made me severely allergic to all things mammal. I am very thankful and respectful to vegans as they have paved a way for the growing number of people with this disease. I was amazed and even shocked to learn about all the things that are made from mammals. We scour the net for information to share with the members of our support group and depend on factual information in our ever changing world. Food, medications, beauty products and everything else you can imagine has been touched by some mammal ingredient, even liquid Benadryl has mammal in it.