Is Animal Free Whey Vegan?

What PETA & Surveys Say

This article goes over what vegan-related organizations,

And vegan surveys,

Say about animal-free whey protein and the broader animal-free dairy scene as well.

Quick note:

Animal-free whey is more popularly known as vegan whey, and it’s sometimes called non-animal whey as well.

Let’s start.

Last updated: Sep. 23, 2023. See our disclaimer.

PETA's Opinion

This image shows that PETA is worried about animal testing to make animal-free dairy products.

Precision fermentation is the technology that’s used to produce animal-free dairy products,

Like animal-free whey.

(Details: How is Vegan Whey Protein Made? 3 Ways)

This image shows that precision fermentation is used to make animal-free whey and dairy.

PETA doesn’t think precision fermentation is vegan.

Here’s why:

It’s Not Vegan Unless It’s Kind to All Animals

While precision fermentation can prevent cows from being used in the abusive dairy industry, it’s up to manufacturers to make sure that all animals are kept safe from harm when bringing new products to market. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not require animal tests to bring food products to market, but some companies insist on conducting them anyway because—get this—they think it makes consumers feel safer...

Given PETA’s stance on precision fermentation,

And since precision fermentation is used to make animal-free dairy,

Then:

No, animal-free dairy isn’t vegan according to PETA.

By extension:

Since animal-free whey is just a form of animal-free dairy,

Then:

No, animal-free whey isn’t vegan according to PETA.

Here’s the basic gist of PETA’s thinking:

PETA doesn’t believe that animal-free dairy and whey are vegan because companies test these products on animals to bring them to market.

Is this true, though?

Yes.

It’s certainly possible.

Perfect Day is a well-known industry player in animal-free dairy.

Perfect Day makes animal-free whey protein powder and other animal-free dairy products using precision fermentation.

Here’s what their FAQ has to say on this topic:

Do you use animal testing to make your products?

…While we do not support or condone the use of animal testing, in order to establish that a new ingredient is safe for human consumption, governmental regulatory agencies require extensive food safety tests. For new ingredients, like ours, these tests often require animal testing to ensure safety for human consumption. This step is, unfortunately, an important part of a) securing partnerships with food companies that will use our protein in their products and help us have widespread impact, and b) assuring consumers that products containing our new ingredients are safe to consume…

So PETA does have a point.

But it’s not the only viewpoint on this controversial topic.

VRG's Stance

This image shows that VRG is worried about the use of animal DNA to make whey protein.

The Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG) is:

…a non-profit organization dedicated to educating the public on veganismsince 1982.

VRG has chimed in specifically about animal-free whey.

Like PETA, the Vegetarian Resource Group doesn’t believe that animal-free whey protein powder is vegan.

But they have a different take on it.

Whereas PETA is concerned about animal testing in the animal-free dairy industry,

VRG’s concern is that the production of animal-free whey requires the use of a small part of a cow’s DNA.

Here’s the relevant section of an article they published about this very point:

The VRG recognizes Perfect Day’s good intentions to move away from a reliance on conventional dairy cows as the source of its whey…

…However, on the question of whether their whey is “animal-free,” my personal view is that it wouldn’t be...an animal product is involved in the whey’s manufacture as its initiator.

VRG had one other interesting take in the same article.

To make animal-free whey,

Precision fermentation relies on sugars, which the fungi feast on in order to make the whey.

VRG is also worried about the source of this sugar:

The VRG wanted to know if cane sugar was ever used as the growth medium. This could be an additional concern for some vegans and vegetarians if the cane sugar had been processed through a cow bone char filter.

Through email communication in July 2021, Kathleen Nay, Public Affairs and Content Specialist at Perfect Day, informed The VRG:

“At present we use sugar derived from corn. However, our process is feedstock agnostic and can be adapted to local sugar production depending on where the fermentation takes place, to tap into or expand sugar markets. We certainly could use cane sugar if the opportunity were there.”

We go over additional,

Potentially hidden,

Sources of animal products used in the manufacture of animal-free whey in this article:

How is Vegan Whey Protein Made? 3 Ways

But let’s take a look at what vegans,

Not vegan organizations,

Had to say about all of this.

Surveys of Vegans

This image visualizes the statistics in this section's text.

According to surveys,

Only 34.1% of vegans are likely or very likely to try precision-fermentation dairy alternatives (milk or ice cream) compared to 49.3% of non-vegans.

Furthermore:

50.7% of non-vegans and 29.5% of vegans agree or strongly agree that yeast-derived agricultural products (like animal-free dairy) are “animal-free”.

(Details: Precision Fermentation Statistics: Vegans vs. Nonvegans)

By inference:

According to these surveys,

Most vegans aren’t convinced that animal-free dairy (like animal-free whey) is vegan or animal-free,

And most vegans are not super excited to try these types of products either.

However:

What’s also notable,

Is that a sizeable minority of vegans do believe that animal-free dairy is vegan. They’re even willing to purchase and consume such products.

These surveys clearly point out the underlying,

Wide variety,

Of interpretations of what “vegan” or “veganism” means to any one vegan.

It may also partially speak to a lack of understanding on what animal-free dairy is (and isn’t).

Understanding that may swing a person’s opinion on whether animal-free dairy is vegan or not in either direction…

All depending on their personal values, beliefs, and interpretations.

Yes. It’s Vegan.

There are many arguments for why animal-free dairy and animal-free whey aren’t vegan.

There are also plenty of strong arguments for why they are.

Jude Whiley, of Wired, is a vegan.

In an article for the magazine, she made a very strong case for why lab grown meat is vegan.

The arguments she made therein can easily be transferred over to animal-free dairy and animal-free whey.

Here’s what she had to say at first:

…Conflict will arise between vegans whose philosophy is defined by the simple avoidance of animal products and those who believe in a more radical restructuring of our relationship with the animal world…

…Ultimately, arguments against cultured meat could hamper the progress of animal liberation. Vegans should not permit this. If we want to see an end to animal exploitation, it is our moral duty to call lab-grown meat vegan, even if it unnerves us.

As with lab-grown meat,

Animal-free dairy at one point required the harvesting of genetic material from an actual cow. That no longer needs to be the case since the relevant genes have been sequenced and can be accessed digitally for the production of animal-free dairy.

We explain all this in detail here:

How is Vegan Whey Protein Made? 3 Ways

So,

If animal-free dairy products (like non-animal whey),

Are made thanks to animal genetic material,

(Genetic material that’s not found in the final product),

And such products don’t require animals for their manufacture,

Then are these products vegan?

Jude Whiley continues:

For many, the permissibility of lab-grown meat hinges on whether you think the harvesting of stem cells from an animal qualifies as exploitation…

…Should we assert the rights of a single cow not to have its stem cells harvested above the rights of all the animals who could be emancipated—that is, not slaughtered—by the burgers grown from that cell?

…For me, it’s undeniable that when the rights of a few animals (not to be exploited) are held above the rights of millions of animals (not to be slaughtered), we have reached a philosophical dead end. A utilitarian position brings us closer to veganism’s end goal of freeing animals from exploitation through saving millions of lives...

Likewise,

Animal-free dairy can be seen as a form of emancipation of endless cattle breeding, emotional suffering from the separation of calf from mother, endless milking, and so on…

All thanks to one (now dead) cow’s DNA that’s been sequenced and stored digitally for posterity.

Jude Whiley ends with a potent warning:

…I can envision a future in which a movement like that of anti-vaxxers prevents lab-grown meat from fulfilling its potential....

… Permitting vegans and meat-eaters a get-out through contributing—however slightly—to the argument against lab-grown meat is to permit the continuation of animal exploitation and environmental destruction. And that isn’t very vegan, is it?

We encourage you to read her article for a lot more thought provoking arguments.

We take no stance on her article,

But it does balance out PETA’s and VRG’s positions on this issue.

You Decide

In the end,

We think that non-profit opinions, consumer surveys, and journalist pieces…

Only go so far in telling us if animal-free whey is vegan or not.

Each person has their own beliefs about what is and isn’t vegan.

Maybe that’s why surveys show that a large minority of vegans are ready to try animal-free dairy products.

So…

Instead of telling someone what to think…

On whether animal-free whey is vegan or not…

We thought it would be best to fairly describe exactly how animal-free protein is made instead.

Here are the details:

How is Vegan Whey Protein Made? 3 Ways

It’s a complete and easy read.

Once you finish reading that article,

You’ll be well-placed to decide whether animal-free whey is vegan or not,

For yourself.