Yes, you need Vitamin B12 to live a healthy life. No, not only meat eaters are privy to this necessary vitamin. Here are the facts about vitamin B12, and what food we can get it from:
WHAT IS VITAMIN B12, AND WHY DO WE NEED IT?
Vitamin B12 is crucial for proper red blood cell formation, neurological function, health of nerve tissue, to absorb folic acid (pregnant women, heads up!), and DNA synthesis. It also helps your cells metabolize protein, carbohydrate, and fat. Vitamin B12 deficiency is a very real problem because it can lead to pernicious anemia, a disorder where the body is unable to make enough red blood cells for the body to function effectively. Furthermore, a lack of B12 can lead to irreversible nerve and brain damage.
B12 is a strange vitamin in that there is much disagreement about where it comes from. Since both plant and animal are unable to naturally produce the vitamin, most scientists conclude that the exclusive source comes from tiny microorganisms like bacteria, yeasts, molds, and algae. Unfortunately, labeling of B12 is not yet a requirement on food packaging, making it difficult to decipher how much a food product contains. There are several schools of thought in regards to vegetarianism/ veganism, one suggesting that the reason it is not a cause for concern is because vitamin B12 can be stored in the human body for up to 20 years (and only a small amount is needed at time to thrive). We store between 2 and 5 milligrams of vitamin B12 and only excrete a very small fraction of this each day. This is good news considering we only need 2.4 micrograms per day. Nevertheless, over time, vitamin B12 deficiency can develop if stores are not replenished with vitamin B12 from the diet or from supplements. However, for strict vegetarians/ vegans (who have been that way their whole lives) there are many questions about whether plant sources are reliable, and whether or not weekly supplements are required. In this regards, the amount of B12 in a plant source (yes, they have it too) depends on its relationship to the soil and root level microorganisms.
WHAT FOODS, OR FOOD ITEMS HAVE IT?
There is good news for vegetarians/ vegans and meat eaters alike, because Vitamin B12 is easy to come by. It is true that the worlds healthiest sources for this vitamin are typically meat sources (especially fish sources, sardines being near the top), but it would be unfair to say that meat is the only way. There are many vegan dietary sources where vitamin B12 can be found, as shown in the following list (although it is dependent on the manufacturer, you should purchase food sources the pride themselves in B12 labeling. If not, you can be assured that many vegan meat alternatives, and milk products are fortified with B12. If doubtful, contact the manufacturer to find out more):
Wheat Gluten 'meat' products
Fortified vegan milks, yogurts and cheese (in fact these are the more easily accessible, clearly labeled products)
And a strange one that I am not a big fan of...many vegans do not wash the organic soil off of their vegetables fully, so as to reap the benefits of B12 when consuming small particles of soil.
Bottom Line: Yes, if you are a vegan you need to be aware of B12, and make sure you are getting the, what seems, a minuscule amount. No, if you are a meat eater you can not gloat about it. Meat does not OWN B12. All of us are intelligent enough to find sources that fit for us, and our family.