Shellac is made from the secretions of the lac beetle and is not vegan because it comes from this small animal. The beetles secrete the resin on tree branches in Southeast Asia as a protective shell for their larvae. The males fly away, but the females stay behind. When the flakes of resin are scraped off the branches, many of the females who remain are killed or injured. Some branches are kept intact so that enough females will live to reproduce.
Shellac is used in a variety of ways, including foods, furniture finishes, nail polish and other applications. In foods, shellac is often disguised as "confectioner's glaze" on a list of ingredients and creates a shiny, hard surface on candies. Some vegans may argue that eating and harming insects isn't necessarily non-vegan - however, most still maintain not harming any living creature as one of their core principles.
Are You Still Vegan If You Eat Bugs?
For vegans, harming and especially eating any creature that can feel and experience it is considered wrong - even for insects. That's because, despite an insect's nervous system being different from a mammal's, they still have a nervous system and can still feel pain.
Some question whether insects are capable of suffering, but it's been documented that they will avoid unpleasant stimuli. However, recent scientific data suggests that an all-vegetable diet may inherently harm more animal populations because of competition for resources as well as loss of ecosystems due to commercial farming.
With this new evidence, many vegans are considering switching to the more eco-friendly diet of an insectivore. Commercial farming has also led to an increased number of sentient creatures' deaths because the farmers consider small animals like squirrels, rats, moles and mice pests.
The key difference is that it's an indirect effect of eating vegan - an argument that vegans generally point out when making this claim.
How is Shellac Not Different?
The resin of the lac beetle used to make shellac is sometimes called "lac resin," and is produced as part of their reproductive cycle. The issue vegans have with this product - which is largely used to coat fruits and vegetables to keep them fresh and pretty - is that harvesting the natural secretion of these insects directly harms many of them.
Vegans also don't eat or use animal by-products like cheese, honey, silk, and carmine because of the suffering commercial farming causes the animal that produces these products. For them, it's not just about if the animal dies or if you're consuming the animal itself, it's about the animals' rights to live a life free of torture and unjust suffering.
So, if you truly wish to be a full-fledged vegan, most would argue that you should avoid purchasing products known to use shellac such as mass-produced and low-quality fruits found at chain supermarkets. For vegans, it's not just that you're consuming beetle secretions, your use of shellac directly harms many of these Southeast Asian insects.