Newsletter - Animal Writes sm
24 September 2000 Issue

By Maxwell G. Lee, President VSUK, President IVU
[email protected]

It has been suggested that animals were put on Earth for humans to use. This is seen by many as a reason for not worrying about the maltreatment of animals. Throughout the world animals are normally and routinely suffering whether they are being used for food, sport, research or even as pets. The humane vegetarian argument is that we should treat all life on Earth with respect. Whilst many are vegetarian for religious, economic or health reasons the moral arguments appeal increasingly as new ways of using animals are leading to more and more cruelty. In the West moral arguments increasingly appeal to people. A major United Kingdom survey has shown that well over ninety percent of responding vegetarians have adopted such a diet for moral reasons. It should be remembered that the Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom was the first vegetarian society and in 1997 celebrates its 150th anniversary, having been formed in 1847. Throughout its history many have seen moral arguments as the most important reason for becoming vegetarian with health reasons a long way behind. For other countries the picture is less clear but vegetarianism is growing in Western countries. In other parts of the world, where many cannot afford the luxury of expensive meat and related products, meat consumption is seen as Western, a sign of affluence and something to be aimed at. Young people in particular see copying Western behavior as desirable. This is ironic since in the West young people increasingly question the values and practices of their societies.

The moral argument for vegetarianism owes something to religious beliefs but stands on its own as a reason for being vegetarian. People see intensive farming of animals, genetic engineering being applied to animals and the treatment animals receive from birth to death, and beyond, as lacking any morality. In addition, the evidence being produced by medical research and investigations into the health of vegetarians, compared to those who consume meat, shows that a vegetarian diet is better for health and that animal eating is associated with much higher rates of diseases common in modern society. Vegetarians are much less likely to suffer cancer, heart disease, kidney or liver problems, or diabetes, than those who consume meat. Recent scares about Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (Mad Cow Disease) in cattle are being linked to Kreutzfeld Jakob Disease in humans. The scandal of salmonella in eggs and the use of antibiotics, growth enhancers and hormones in animals are a further concern for those who continue to eat animals. These additives not only concentrate in animal flesh and organs but also find their way into water courses and rivers so being ingested by humans whose water supply is taken from the very same rivers. It is a sorry story that human health is being jeopardized because of the ways in which animals are treated.

Vegetarianism in the United Kingdom is now strong and playing an important part in decisions by food producers and retailers. The demand for special vegetarian foods by both vegetarians and those concerned about the safety of animal foods is leading to rapid growth in the provision of vegetarian foods. All major food retailers make special efforts to ensure a good range of vegetarian products in their displays. Such fast food restaurant chains as McDonalds and Burger King provide vegetarian options. Burger King made an agreement to use the symbol of The Vegetarian Society on suitable burgers and have had very large posters in their windows advertising the vegetarian burgers and stating that they are approved by The Vegetarian Society. Near to my home, Manchester City Council issues a guide to restaurants in the city and only four of those listed do not indicate that they offer vegetarian dishes. Wherever one goes in Britain it is now easy to obtain vegetarian meals. It is estimated that there are now 4 million people adopting a vegetarian diet and that the growth in numbers is particularly strong among young women. Meat eaters often decide to have vegetarian meals since they realize that a vegetarian diet is better for health and this message is increasingly publicized by radio, television and the newspapers.

Whilst some food producers and retailers have designed their own symbol to indicate vegetarian products, many use the symbol of The Vegetarian Society and pay the society a license fee to be allowed to do so. The society checks all ingredients to ensure they are acceptable to vegetarians and the product can then use the registered symbol and state "Approved by the Vegetarian Society." The symbol is increasingly being marketed in other countries.

Continental Europe is moving towards a vegetarian diet but somewhat more slowly. The Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and Italy have made good progress along the vegetarian path. However, other countries are moving somewhat more slowly. At least it is now normal to have vegetarian organizations promoting the way of life. On the continent it is much more common for people to adopt a vegetarian diet for health reasons with moral ones somewhat less important. Recent years have seen the growth of vegetarian societies in former communist countries. In most, such societies were not allowed under the former political system. Their vegetarian societies are attracting growing interest as people learn more about the moral and health problems of meat consumption.

North America is also showing a marked growth of vegetarianism with vegetarian societies throughout and vegetarian meals being readily available in most parts. It is common to find vegetarian restaurants and shops selling suitable foods. One simple omission is the terrible cotton wool bread which is so common! One has to really search for good wholemeal bread.

Latin America is another region with marked contrasts from country to country. The interest is more on health than moral and many people are demi vegetarian since they still eat fish. Restaurants catering for vegetarians are not uncommon but the interest in providing for vegetarians is still very limited. Such vegetarian societies as exist are local and play a small part in the worldwide vegetarian movement.

Africa is stirring in terms of vegetarianism. For a long time there were only such societies in South Africa and Nigeria. However, recent years have seen the formation of vegetarian societies in Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. Indeed, a celebratory dinner held by the vegetarian society in Botswana was attended by the country's president at the time, himself a vegetarian.

Asia has a long history of vegetarianism but this is being undermined by commercial interests and the failure of governments to respect their national traditions. In many cases they are encouraging the consumption of meats such as chicken. The Indian Government has encountered much opposition from the many vegetarian groups to its policy of encouraging the use of eggs and consumption of chickens. It is estimated that well over a quarter of the Indian population is vegetarian. In Thailand vegetarianism exists with a number of vegetarian societies. Vegetarian restaurants are quite common in the cities. However, many Buddhist monks, operating on the principle that they eat whatever food is given to them, will eat meat when provided. The country does have an annual festival in October when people are encouraged to be vegetarian for a week! In China people might be vegetarian for religious reasons but economic reasons are also important. People are poor and often unable to afford meat. Japan does not have a history of respect for animals so there is a very limited vegetarian tradition. There is a vegetarian society which is beginning to flourish. In other countries vegetarianism is either taken for granted as in Malaysia and Shri Lanka or largely ignored as in many of the Moslem states.

Australia in some ways mirrors the developments in North America and Europe. Whilst the interest is growing markedly, the vegetarian societies are generally small but making progress. Vegetarian meal provision is very patchy but quite normal in large cities. Concern for the cruelties done to animals is a growing influence encouraging people to think about their use of animals. The annual cull of kangaroos in Australia is done in a very cruel manner and attracting increasing opposition.

The world-wide vegetarian movement is coordinated by the International Vegetarian Union (IVU) which was formed in 1908 and aims to promote vegetarianism world-wide and encourage the formation of vegetarian societies where none exist. It has a number of regional organizations. Both world and regional vegetarian congresses are organized to promote the cause and to bring vegetarians together from all parts of the world to work to promote vegetarianism. IVU has a considerable amount of material on its web pages about the organization and the promotion of vegetarianism. People can become individual members and participate in the various discussion groups etc.

The arguments for a vegetarian approach are an attractive message since the evidence, whether moral, health, environmental or economic, is very strong. Recent years have seen a massive improvement in the availability of information about vegetarianism. This is due to the availability of such information on the world wide web. Internet access is becoming much more common and enables immediate and cheap communication and access to information in any part of the world. Vegetarianism is readily available on the "Vegetarian Pages" and this is accessed by increasing numbers of people.

It is an exciting time to be vegetarian or animal activist. The global accessibility means that events in any part of the world become common knowledge and the ways in which we treat animals may be shown daily on television everywhere. It is a gradual process to educate the population of the world. Whilst so many people are still lacking sufficient food and unspeakable cruelties are done to humans, some might argue that concern about animals is a luxury. Others of us see the relationship between the way in which we treat each other and the way in which we treat animals. The two are interrelated. If we respect the right of every individual to live safely with sufficient food and shelter, then the world will become a better place. Then to ignore the responsibility for the animal kingdom will be even less tenable than it is today. The fact that animals do not speak in a language we readily understand, that they are of differing levels of intelligence and are different physically should not be seen as a reason for treating them badly and without respect or concern. If we continue to do so, we might equally decide that it is logical, and even proper, to treat badly other humans who differ in language, intelligence or physical appearance. The world is trying to move away from racism, sexism, etc. Surely it is also logical to move away from speciesism?

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