Last updated: May/June 2016
Ethics of Veggie Burgers and Sausages
In this guide, we’ve covered ready-made vegetarian burgers and sausages that contain mycoprotein, soya, or other beans, and nuts. These are foods that might be considered alternatives to meat in that they are a source of protein. We haven’t covered the ones that are just vegetables in breadcrumbs, or dry packet mixes like Sosmix, although the companies in this guide may also make these and other meat-free products.
Quorn is the leading brand in the meat alternatives market in Britain. It is made of mycoprotein, which means protein from fungi (in this case based on a type of soil mould), grown in fermentation vats. Although the name ‘Quorn’ is trademarked, the patent on the mycoprotein itself expired a few years ago, so other companies can now make it under a different name if they wish. So far no one has wanted to.
As vegans will no doubt be aware, not all Quorn is vegan because egg white is used to bind the mycoprotein together. However, two vegan versions are now on sale in the UK, which use potato starch instead – frozen hot & spicy burgers and chicken style pieces.
In terms of ingredients across all brands, however, soya is still the number one choice. It is appealing because, unlike most other beans, it provides complete protein, containing all eight essential amino acids that we need. It has been eaten in Asia for thousands of years and was introduced to the rest of the world in the eighteenth and ninetieth centuries, but it didn’t catch on as a human food outside of Asia until much later. Read our feature 'Is Soya Sustainable?'.
Strangely, none of the main types of meat alternatives were created for animal welfare reasons. Soya sausages were invented in Germany during the first world war as a way of dealing with meat shortages. Quorn was developed in the 1960s as part of a research drive to find new proteins, due to concerns about feeding the growing world population.
The veggie sausages of the future
Some people are experimenting with making meat alternatives out of lupin beans, sometimes called “the soya bean of the north”. They are also very high in protein, and they can grow in cooler climates than soya, which makes them better suited to Europe.
Their aficionados claim that they are nutritionally and environmentally superior. At the moment lupin burgers are extremely niche and not included on the table, but can be bought online in places like boutique-vegan.com.
Which brands make vegan sausages and burgers?
- Dragonfly - all products are vegan
- Veggies - all products are vegan
- Taifun - all products are vegan
- Fry's - all products are vegan
- Goodlife - Spicy Veg Beanburgers,Nut Burgers
- VegiDeli - all products are vegan
- Wicken Fen - Carrot & Coriander sausages, Tomato & Garlic sausages, Mushroom & Tarragon sausages
- Quorn - Hot & Spicy frozen burgers
- Linda McCartney - all sausages, plain burgers & quarter pound burgers
Vegan varieties are denoted by an [A] (for 'Animal Welfare') on the score table.
GM and Meat Substitutes
Soya is the most used GM crop around the world. However, replacing meat with soya-based alternatives would actually reduce your support for GM crops because the vast majority of GM soya is fed to livestock.
Consumer rejection has kept GM out of the vast majority of meat substitutes, and in the UK, food made with GM ingredients is legally required to say genetically modified on the label. But the use of GM animal feed does not have to appear on the label of the food it goes to produce. As a result, most non-organic meat, eggs and dairy products now come from animals reared on at least some GM feed.
This paragraph was written by Liz O'Neill from GM Freeze.
Which companies only sell vegan or veggie products?
Vegan companies: Veggies, Dragonfly, VBites (VegiDeli), Life Foods (Taifun) and Fry’s.
Vegetarian companies: Goodlife and Weeks Foods (Wicken Fen).
The other companies: Hain Celestial (Linda McCartney’s), Nestle (Tivall), Dr A. Stoffel Holding AG (Granovita), Monde Nissin (Quorn and Cauldron), and all the supermarkets, sell meat in addition to vegetarian and/or vegan options.
We only included the supermarkets that do their own brand veggie burgers or sausages. (Co-op does not).
Many of the companies on the table are small in terms of turnover. This means Ethical Consumer does not require them to have the type of well-developed environmental and supply-chain policies that we would expect of larger companies. They are also too small to do much tax avoidance, to be big political donors, or to pay their directors obscene sums of money.
The big companies did not all fare so well, being marked down for, amongst other things:
Likely use of tax avoidance strategies: Hain Celestial (Linda McCartney), Dr A Stoffel Holding (Granovita) & Nestle (Tivall)
Excessive directors pay: Hain Celestial & Nestle
Political Donations: Hain Celestial (US Democrats) & Nestle (US Democrats and Republicans)
Company Behind the Brand
Hain Celestial produces the Linda McCartney brand. All Linda McCartney sausages and its plain burgers and 1/4 lb burgers are vegan.
Hain Celestial is a large American company that also produces a range of other food and healthcare products.
It doesn’t do very well in our ratings. It is registered in Delaware, a tax haven, it uses some uncertified palm oil, and it has directors that earn over £1 million. We couldn’t get information on its soya sourcing.
Hain Celestial has just agreed a $7.5 million settlement to end an American class action lawsuit over it having allegedly falsely labelled products as organic. (Not its meat alternatives).
Want to know more?
If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table.
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1 Newsday, 23/9/2015, Hain Celestial settles mislabelling lawsuit for nearly $10 million.
Read our 'Veggie vs Meat' feature which compares the environmental impact of meat production to veggie products.