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How is the Vitamin B12 supplement made?
October 24, 2011 2:24 PM   Subscribe

How is the vitamin B12 supplement made? I've tried searching the internet, but the information is nearly nonexistent other than using a buzzword like carbofermentation that doesn't document the creation process of the supplement.

A few years ago, my friend, in a pregnancy labour class, watched a video documenting the source of vitamin b12 supplements. She claimed that it was harvested from rat meat. I've tried to search the internet to counter her claims, but there isn't much evidence documenting the vitamin B12 creation process. Wikipedia and several sites state that the only source of vitamin B12 is dairy, eggs, and meat and that vegans need to take vitamin B12 supplements.

The topic came up yesterday on a date I had with a vegan. The date went well and I have another date with her, but I ended up defending my choice to eat meat by saying that the Vitamin B12 supplement creation process isn't vegan itself and that herbivores get it by the consumption of insect meat that's left on the plants they consume. I pointed out that a lack of Vitamin B12 leads to anemia.

I also know that seaweed sources of Vitamin B12 are not suitable for humans. Was my female friend right? Is the Vitamin B12 supplement creation process also non vegan?
posted by DetriusXii to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Looks like it's made by bacteria and fermentation nowadays.
posted by jquinby at 2:30 PM on October 24, 2011


Even if this rumor about vitamin B12 supplements were true, it's not true that the only other sources of B12 are meat, dairy, and eggs. It's also in nutritional yeast (which is delicious, tastes like parmesan cheese).

The date went well and I have another date with her, but I ended up defending my choice to eat meat by saying that the Vitamin B12 supplement creation process isn't vegan itself and that herbivores get it by the consumption of insect meat that's left on the plants they consume.

I'm surprised. If I went on a date with someone who seriously criticized my vegetarianism because trace amounts of insects might be incidentally left in my food, she wouldn't be getting another date with me.
posted by John Cohen at 2:36 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here's a page on vegan sources of B-12 which cites various sources for their info. It says most B-12 supplements are made using bacteria. (Interestingly, that page says that nutritional yeast is only a source of B-12 if it has been supplemented; I hadn't heard that before, so something to look into.)

But also - if someone believed in the ethical (or other) reasons for being vegan, but was concerned about the B-12 supplement, it seems like the most consistent course for them to adopt would be to be vegan otherwise and just acknowledge that in the matter of B-12 they would have to accept being non-vegan. It's still possible to reduce animal cruelty/environmental harms from one's dietary choices, even if one doesn't go 100% vegan.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:48 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I do not have any evidence, except for one logical point: Vegans (and others who care about what they eat for similar reasons) have done a lot to expose unethical and dubious food production means. It is certainly possible that this has flown under the radar, but how likely is it that it wouldn't be well known in the vegan community if it were true? I have never heard this allegation.

Also, I just checked the liquid B-12 that I take and it says "Vegetarian/Vegan Product."

If there's any truth to what your friend said (also, did she give any evidence? or was it just "something someone told her"?) it's most likely that it would be a method that was used years ago.
posted by DoubleLune at 2:59 PM on October 24, 2011


I don't know the source of it but my bottle of b12 supplements say "suitable for vegans" on the front.
posted by missmagenta at 3:01 PM on October 24, 2011


Wikipedia and several sites state that the only source of vitamin B12 is dairy, eggs, and meat and that vegans need to take vitamin B12 supplements.

The same Wikipedia page also says that B12 supplements are made from bacteria. (and in fact, that only bacteria can synthesize B12).
posted by missmagenta at 3:09 PM on October 24, 2011


From this book:

"All of the Vitamin B12 in the world ultimately comes from bacteria. Neither plants nor animals can synthesize it. But plants can be contaminated with B12 when they come in contact with soil bacteria that produce it. Animal foods are rich in B12 only because animals eat foods that are contaminated with it or because bacteria living in an animal's intestines make it."

It seems highly unlikely that B12 supplements were ever derived from rats, or any other animal source (not counting liver pills).

Incidentally, according to this page, "...the mouth, upper intestine, and lower intestine all contain bacteria that produce B12. However, it's unknown if enough B12 to meet the daily requirement comes from internal sources of B12." Interesting.
posted by Specklet at 3:19 PM on October 24, 2011


@LobsterMitten: Stumbled on that website too.

@DoubleLune: It was a video source, but she didn't provide the video name of the documentary.

@John: I didn't try to expose a contradiction. She mentioned she could still be deficient in Vitamin B12. I had suggested that insect meat was a alternative, but she mentioned that insects are gross. It led to conversation about an insect eater on the Tyra Banks show that I thought was making some pretty good points. I wasn't hostile to her veganism, but it's just based off the video that my friend watched, I was trying to discover if my date knew how the vitamin was created. I plan on linking back the resources that I can collect from her back to her, just so that I can correct any misinformation. And I cook vegetarian and vegan meals myself, just because I feel that they taste better.
posted by DetriusXii at 3:21 PM on October 24, 2011


I just did an academic database search and found nothing on this. I found a LOT of articles about rats being used in the lab to test things about B12, but that was the only reference to rats. Also I checked the video sites my school has access to and got nothing.
posted by DoubleLune at 3:54 PM on October 24, 2011


It's also in nutritional yeast (which is delicious, tastes like parmesan cheese).

This is a common misconception; nutritional yeast is rich in other B vitamins, but must be specifically fortified with B12.

A paper on industrial-scale bacterial B12 production:
Vitamin B12 production by a newly isolated strain of a methanol-utilizing
bacterium was studied. The maximal yield of the vitamin, 2.6 mg/liter of
medium, was attained by optimization.
posted by beerbajay at 4:29 PM on October 24, 2011


She mentioned she could still be deficient in Vitamin B12.

FWIW, I wouldn't date someone with that condition: irritability, depression, moodiness - no fun for all involved.

But, yes, not to derail, everything I've read seems to associate its production with fauna rather than flora.
posted by 5Q7 at 9:16 PM on October 24, 2011


(Perhaps your friend saw a video which showed lab work being done that involved B12 - in which case I suppose they could have done some kind of horrible "pulp and centrifuge the rats" process. If this type of thing were new to your friend, she could easily have remembered it as "the source of B12" rather than "the source of B12 data in this experiment only". Especially if she were dealing with all the things you need to deal with during pregnancy (or if she is one of those people who dislikes vegans/vegetarians and is always looking for reasons why we're "hypocritical".)
posted by Frowner at 8:10 AM on October 25, 2011


The problem with your friend's story is the term "rat meat." Although herp people can buy rats and mice and "pinkies" for their pets, your typical first-world westernized country does not have rat farms or rat meat.

Frowner's scenario is the most likely of generous explainations.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:48 AM on October 25, 2011


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