The term “animal free” is commonly used to refer to materials and foods that contain zero percent animal products. This of course indicates that the product contains absolutely no meat, poultry, seafood, eggs and dairy products, along with honey, fur, leather, wool, and silk. Anything that came from an animal or was made by an animal can not be considered animal free. Animal free materials also eschew a long list of common animal by-products like gelatin, lanolin, rennet, whey, beeswax, and shellac. In the modern era, the use of animal products is so widespread and varied that people don’t always realize when something they are eating, wearing, or using to wash their face might contain an ingredient derived from an animal. In addition, some products that claim to be animal free actually involve animal ingredients in their production. A great example of this is sugar. Sugar does not actually contain any animal products, so it could be classified as animal free, but many types of refined sugar are processed with animal bone charcoal, which is used to remove color, impurities and minerals from the sugar. The charcoal is not included in the sugar, of course, but since it is used as a filter, this type of sugar cannot be considered totally animal free.
For this reason, the vigilant vegan must always be on her toes. In many situations, it can be difficult if not impossible to ensure that everything you are consuming has been totally animal free throughout its growth and production. Some philosophies claim that strict adherence to totally animal free living can be prohibitively expensive and time consuming. Instead, they argue, doing what is best to prevent the suffering of animals is more important that identifying and excluding every ingredient that might possibly have had animal products involved somewhere in its production. Still other strains of veganism consider the use of insect products, such as honey and silk, to be acceptable, since they do not believe insects to be conscious of pain, or because these insects create their products naturally and without causing significant amounts of death and pain.
While philosophies can differ on the finer points, the reasons for living animal free normally focus on the ethical treatment of living organisms. Since animals have their own lives, joys, and sufferings, the argument goes, it is unethical for humans to use them in any way we see fit. Luckily there are an increasing number of animal free products available in the US, from leather free shoes to hemp clothing to vegan chocolate. One can purchase vegan sugar that is made without any animal products, and with the growing consciousness surrounding animal free diets it is becoming easier and easier to eat a completely vegan diet with a minimum of fuss. No longer must the ethical consumer be forced to hunt through small, limited markets in the outskirts of town for their “specialty” animal free products!