University News

BDS’ use of rennet, cage-free eggs draws mixed reactions

A new list of sub-ingredients posted online includes the controversial product rennet

By
Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 6, 2013

BDS does not verify whether the rennet used in its dishes comes from animal or non-animal sources. The FDA does not require food producers and manufacturers to provide this information on their food labels.

Though Brown Dining Services has implemented several changes this semester in favor of more animal-friendly practices and better accomodations for students with dietary concerns, questions persist over some posted ingredients — such as the food byproduct rennet — that some students said the University should more clearly publish and classify.

This semester marks the first time BDS has posted sub-ingredients for dishes served at the Sharpe Refectory and Verney-Woolley Dining Hall, a change administrators said is meant to help students with allergy issues and other dietary concerns.

BDS has also transitioned to purchasing only “100 percent cage-free” eggs in response to student efforts to convince the University to adopt more animal-friendly policies regarding food in dining halls, wrote Gina Guiducci, administrative dietician for BDS, in an email to The Herald.

The move to use only cage-free egg products came as a result of the University’s 2009 commitment to the Real Food Challenge, a campaign for colleges and universities to transition their food budgets to purchase more sustainable and animal-friendly products, Guiducci wrote.

“Cage-free eggs have been a focus of those efforts from the beginning,” she added.

Brown Vegetarian Society members expressed enthusiasm for the University’s shift to cage-free suppliers, adding that they have been pushing for this change for nearly five years.

“I’m happy we made the transition,” said Stephanie Haro ’16, a Brown Vegetarian Society co-leader. “It’s better than what we were buying before.”

But Haro said determining whether the suppliers the BDS uses are genuinely cage-free remains difficult because many suppliers do not post the details of their animal policies on their websites.

Listing sub-ingredients online has “been a priority for the department for some time, but software upgrades that recently became available made it possible,” Guiducci wrote. Posting sub-ingredients in meals at the Ratty and V-Dub online required BDS to assign a staffer to collect nutritional data from food producers, distributors and other parties involved in BDS food preparation, Guiducci wrote.

But posting the sub-ingredients online has led to concerns from some students about BDS’ use of rennet — a cheese byproduct that occasionally is derived from animal stomach enzymes — in some dishes labeled as vegetarian.

Though most rennet comes from non-animal alternatives, BDS does not verify whether the rennet used in its dishes comes from animal or non-animal sources, Guiducci wrote.

No more than 11 percent of cheese products in the United States contain animal-derived rennet, Guiducci wrote, citing a study by the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research.

“The FDA does not require food producers and manufacturers to provide this information on food labels, so we do not have the information available,” Guiducci wrote.

Some students voiced surprise and concern over the fact that BDS does not check whether rennet used in its dishes comes from animal or non-animal sources.

“I would expect better from them,” said Jana Foxe ’16. “They should be conscious of the fact that there are vegetarians out there who don’t want to consume any kind of animal products at all.”

Others said they were unaware of the presence of rennet but were not surprised the eateries do not check the source of the substance in dining hall dishes.

“I’m vegan, but I’m not surprised this kind of thing came from Dining Services,” said Adam Horowitz ’16, a Brown Vegetarian Society co-leader. “There’s a lot of vegan dishes that they serve that have honey, which doesn’t make them strictly vegan.”

Horowitz said he went off meal plan after his first year at the University because he found the labeling of vegetarian and vegan dishes in on-campus eateries to be unreliable.

Other students with dietary restrictions said they have never encountered a problem with BDS. Abid Haseeb ’16, who subscribes to the Kosher/Halal meal plan, said he has never encountered any problem with the preparation of his food.

“I’m pretty satisfied with the fact that (the Kosher/Halal meal plan) even exists,” Haseeb said.

4 Comments

  1. former student says:

    Dining Services needs to step it up with the labeling. I had self-imposed dietary restrictions, but I also had food allergies, and I reacted on multiple occasions because food was either not properly labeled. Dining Services employees rarely know the sub-ingredients. Moreover, the “book of ingredients” placed in the Ratty helpfully lists the ingredients for veggie patties as “veggie patty.” There are many items listed similarly.

    This is a serious liability issue. Given the amount that students pay for meal plan (especially first years, given that they have to be on it), they should feel confident that the food isn’t going to make them sick, or worse, kill them.

    • I had the exact same experience, and went off meal plan after freshman year because I have food allergies and got sick multiple times due to unclear labels that omitted many of the ingredients. I’m happy to hear that they are now labeling sub-ingredients, but disappointed and not all that surprised that their labeling system is still unclear and does not look out for students with allergies.

  2. If vegetarians are concerned about rennet, they should stop eating dairy products (and go vegan). Dairy farming is incredibly cruel. It creates the veal industry and the cows used for their milk are slaughtered when they are “spent” at just four years of their potential 20+. It is also environmentally destructive and unhealthy (pus, anyone?).

    Folks should also read about why cage-free eggs are only minisculey more humane: http://humanemyth.org/

  3. I don’t think “byproduct” means what you think it means.

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