Gelatin, Carmine and Rennet Labeling in the United States

An Australian vegetarian planning a visit to the United States emailed The Vegetarian Resource Group in April 2015 about whether gelatin, carmine, and rennet must be labeled on food packages. Various sources that she had consulted left her with questions so she turned to us for clarification.


A common gelling agent and thickener, gelatin is derived from the bones and skins of cows, pigs, or fish. When used as a food or beverage ingredient, gelatin must appear on a food package's label. Source (bovine, porcine or fish) does not have to be specified. When used as an incidental additive or as a processing aid in insignificant amounts, gelatin is exempt from food labeling requirements. This is the case when gelatin is used as a clarifying agent in wine, beer, or juice or used as a carrier in juice or soft drinks.


A red to purple coloring pigment obtained from dried bodies of the female insect Coccus cacti, carmine (or cochineal) must be labeled in a packaged food or beverage product because it is a potential allergen.


An enzyme used in cheese production, rennet must be declared on a food label. It may appear simply as “enzymes.” Source (animal, plant, or microbial) does not have to be stated.

Note: The information provided above applies only to labeling of pre-packaged food and beverage products. In 2014, the FDA issued nutrition labeling requirements pertaining to restaurant foods which will go in to effect on December 1, 2015. Nothing is stated about ingredient labeling of foods served at restaurants or at similar establishments.

According to this FDA document, patrons may request information about restaurant food on an individual basis. Whenever there's doubt about a specific food ingredient, we recommend that you visit the restaurant website or call and ask to speak to a manager.

For further information on food ingredients, see The Vegetarian Resource Group's Guide to Food Ingredients:

The contents of this article, our website and our other publications, including Vegetarian Journal, are not intended to provide personal medical advice. Medical advice should be obtained from a qualified health professional. We often depend on product and ingredient information from company statements. It is impossible to be 100% sure about a statement, info can change, people have different views, and mistakes can be made. Please use your best judgment about whether a product is suitable for you. To be sure, do further research or confirmation on your own.

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