In 2017 Go Vegan Scotland carried out an online survey to find out what issues Scotland-based vegans were facing, in terms of their ability to live vegan when dependent upon the state / government. This arises when we are in hospital, school, prison, care homes and other contexts.
The responses from some 480 Scotland-based vegans highlighted a lack of understanding of the moral conviction that vegans live by, what it means to be vegan in terms of avoidance of all forms of animal exploitation and killing, and how vegan convictions should be taken into account by our state entities.
Currently our hospitals, schools and other state entities do not consistently provide for the needs of vegans; indeed, many do not provide at all. Vegans report instances of:
hospital stays for serious conditions/operations/child birth, during which they were not provided with suitable food; instances of vegans not eating for days, becoming very weak and having to discharge themselves early so that they could go home to eat; many relied on family to bring them food but not everyone has this option and in some cases they were not permitted to bring food in.
opposition to veganism from medical professionals, including pressure on new parents to feed their children cow’s milk based on misinformation regarding plant-based nutrition and compounded by the lack of baby formula suitable for vegans;
vegans suffering from anorexia being denied access to vegan food, told veganism was not permitted and being pressured to eat animal products; in one case reported to have been force-fed animal products against their fundamental moral convictions;
derogatory comments from medical professionals and inaccurate information regarding nutrition, leading to poor advice and wrong diagnoses;
serious difficulties with medication, as all medicines must be tested on animals under UK law, which means vegans must participate in the exploitation and killing of non-human animals whenever they require medication; many medications also contain gelatine and/or milk products, and the limited alternatives are often denied to vegans due to a lack of understanding of the status of veganism in law and the expense of these alternatives;
lack of food that is suitable for vegans in schools, colleges and universities; children in school missing out on free meals due to lack of vegan options; lack of understanding that vegan needs should be catered for to the same extent as religious needs, such that providing vegetarian options is not sufficient;
having to participate in unnecessary experiments on animals, bred and killed or captured for that purpose;
opposition to veganism from teachers including undermining the moral convictions of vegan students, mocking them in front of the other students and misinformation regarding plant-based nutrition;
vegan children and the children of vegan parents exposed to schools, teachers and fellow students directly participating in the subjugation and exploitation of living animals in school, contributing to the killing of animals, for example where eggs are hatched in school. There is no effective way to protect vegan children from such activities in a way that would accord with their rights or the rights of vegan parents;
private parties are invited into schools to promote the breeding, subjugation, exploitation and killing of animals for meat and dairy, with no measures put in place to protect the interests of vegan children or ensure the rights of their parents.
There are, unfortunately, many such examples, a number of which are very serious in terms of the position the individual was placed in, which are narrated below.
What our government and individual state entities may not appreciate, or appreciate fully, is that veganism is a protected conviction under United Kingdom (UK) and European law, and has the same legal status as religious beliefs. That is not to say that veganism is like a religion (it is not), but rather that we have as a society recognised the importance of protecting people’s right to hold and live according to fundamental convictions to the same extent as we respect their right to hold and live according to religious beliefs.
Convictions are protected if they are serious, cogent, important, worthy of respect in a democratic society and do not conflict with the fundamental rights of others. Applying this test, veganism has been recognised as protected by the European Court of Human Rights, the UK Government, the UK Equalities and Human Rights Commission, and the UK Employment Appeals Tribunal. As the vegan conviction that it is wrong to subjugate, exploit and kill non-human animals unnecessarily is protected:
vegans have the right to live according to that conviction;
vegan parents have the right to have their children educated in accordance with that conviction;
our government has a positive obligation to secure to us these rights;
all state entities must act in accordance with these rights;
the government must pass such laws as are necessary to secure our rights in the private sphere;
state entities have a positive duty to advance equality and remove or minimise disadvantages faced by vegans on account of their protected convictions;
we are protected against discrimination on account of our vegan convictions, including indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation, by government entities, public and private employers and private service providers.
Steps to be Taken
In order to comply with its obligations under European and UK law, the Scottish Government must take the following steps, as a minimum:
ensure that good vegan options are included in all state entities, on menus and in canteens and cafes. The options should be equivalent to non-vegan options in terms of quality and quantity, for meals, snacks and drinks;
educate our public sector on the meaning of veganism, its legal status and what is required to meet the needs of vegans;
educate in particular on the distinction between the vegan moral position and a “restrictive diet” in the context of support for anorexia;
support/encourage the production of vegan infant formula;
promote plant-based nutrition education for medical professionals and in our schools;
educate school staff in the wider implications of veganism beyond food so that they understand that vegans avoid all forms of animal use and ensure that good alternatives are made available for vegan children whenever animal use / promotion of animal use is involved; ensure schools do not participate in non-essential activities that reinforce speciesism in a way that makes it impossible for vegan children to be adequately protected (e.g. live animal use in class);
incorporate education on veganism into the core curriculum to ensure that all children understand it and are aware that it is possible to live without exploiting non-human animals;
support alternatives to animal testing and challenge the requirement that all medicines be tested on animals; support the development of animal-free research including the work of charities such as Animal Free Research UK;
put in place policies that encourage pharmaceutical companies to produce versions of medication that are free of animal products; this would lead to greater availability of animal free alternatives, which should in turn lead to the price coming down (the animal ingredients in medication are not generally essential elements of the medicine, they are binding agents and capsules, which could be plant-based);
educate medical staff including GPs so that they are aware that they do have a good basis for prescribing alternatives that are free of animal ingredients. The more that are requested the greater the demand and the more pharmaceutical companies will provide alternatives.
We are requesting a response from the Scottish Government and we are submitting a copy of this report to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission in Scotland, which is responsible for monitoring the implementation of relevant international and European law.
What You Can Do
We can all use the results of the study, and our own experiences, to raise awareness of the moral conviction that vegans live by, distinguishing it from a diet, and explaining why veganism has the same status as religion in law and what is needed in order that vegans can live in accordance with their moral conviction. Please share the report with MSP’s, Local Authorities, councilors, members of our political parties, state bodies and any media contacts you have.