Coral Calcium Supplements - not suitable for vegetarians and here's why...
Coral Calcium Supplements – not suitable for vegetarians and here’s why…
Coral calcium is a dietary supplement which has sparked interest and controversy. Some coral calcium products have been sold labelled as “suitable for vegetarians” and others as “pescatarian”. This has raised questions about whether coral in some form might be considered vegetarian or whether manufacturers simply don’t understand what kinds of product can be defined as vegetarian. So, following a few enquiries from members we’ve looked into it.
What is coral?
Corals are tiny sessile sea creatures called polyps. Biologically, they belong to the class Anthozoa of phylum Cnidaria, and are therefore classed as an animal. It is the exoskeleton of this creature that is used for supplements because it contains calcium carbonate, as well as magnesium and trace amounts of other minerals. As vegetarians do not eat anything made from an animal, and corals are classed as animals, products made from coral are not vegetarian.
Harvesting for coral is done below and above sea level. Underwater, the seabed is vacuumed to remove dead coral in the form of coral sand. This type of coral harvesting is carried out in countries like Japan, under government regulations to prevent damage to the living reefs. This harvesting of coral is claimed by supplement producers to be harmless to the reefs, but environmental conservationists argue indirect damage to the reefs can still pose a threat through poor practice and water turbulence causing stress to the living reefs. Coral calcium can also be obtained from above sea deposits of fossilised coral. One company, based in Brazil, is known to be currently harvesting live coral for supplements. These are corals that have been washed up on the beach and collected at low tide, rather than being taken directly from the reefs.
An important ecosystem
Coral reefs are among the most diverse and important natural ecosystems in the world and are often referred to as the “rainforests of the sea.” About a quarter of the ocean’s fish depend on healthy coral reefs. Shallow-water reefs can support thousands of species of fishes, invertebrates, plants, sea turtles, birds, and marine mammals.
Environmental groups have estimated 50% of the world’s coral reefs have died in the last 30 years and predict up to 90% could follow before 2100. Over the past couple of decades, coral reefs have been disappearing at a rate of around 1-2% per year due to factors such as climate change affecting water temperature, overfishing, pollution, tourism and destructive fishing practices.
Coral reefs grow extremely slowly by around ½cm to 2cm per year. This means regeneration is possible, but challenging. Conservation work has been successfully carried out on reefs around the Philippines and Australia.
Coral supplements have been advertised as being beneficial to health, but in some cases this has caused the authorities to challenge claims being made; proving them to be baseless scientifically. The first of two major landmark cases were brought by the Federal Trade Commission in the USA. In 2004 companies were fined and banned from making further claims for coral calcium being a cure for diseases and ailments in their promotional material.
The Vegetarian Society’s definition of vegetarian is that it can be applied to foods that are not of animal origin, with the exception of dairy products, eggs and honey. As coral calcium supplements are derived from animals, they are not considered vegetarian.
In general, a balanced vegetarian diet can provide plenty of calcium from a wide range of foods without the need for supplementation. These foods include: dairy products and fortified plant-based alternatives, leafy green vegetables, pulses, Quorn, calcium set tofu and even oranges.
For those who need calcium supplements, products licensed to display the Vegetarian Society Approved trademarks include Alive, Argalys, ZipVit and many others. Our Vegetarian Society Approved vegetarian and vegan trademarks give you full confidence that any supplementation is truly suitable for vegetarians. People should bear in mind when purchasing supplement products from the internet, which are not accredited with the Vegetarian Society Approved trademarks, that they may have been labelled in an overseas country where the definition of vegetarian is not understood or is differently interpreted. There is also the possibility of product details being incorrect on webpage listings.
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