The battle over whether ethical veganism is a philosophical belief is absurd

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At one level, the legal battle over whether or not veganism is a philosophical belief, and therefore deserves protection in law, is slightly comical.

Jordi Casamitjana, an animal rights activist was sacked by his former employer, the League Against Cruel Sports, an animal rights group. The reason for his dismissal is disputed, with Casamitjana claiming it was his vegan views and criticism of the League’s pension fund being involved with animal testing firms, while the League states that it was due to his disruptive behaviour. Whatever the truth, it’s reminiscent of previous conflicts that seem to occur within the League as regular as clockwork.

Yet at another level, placing veganism in the same category as a religion may well bring about unforeseen consequences. It’s one thing for an individual to choose a particular diet and lifestyle, but how far must others go to accommodate that choice? If, like Jordi Casamitjana, a person will not use any item that derives from an animal, such as wool or leather, what happens he or she in confronted with an item made of such in, say, a hotel? If veganism is on a par with religion, who has to change? The guest or the hotel owner?

We’ve seen how militant some newly born-again vegans can be, marching into burger bars to demonstrate their views, so it’s unlikely that this legal ruling will do anything to quell that activism. Yet such extreme veganism would seem to ignore a hard truth; considerable numbers of insects, birds, invertebrates and mammals are killed in the production of the food vegans eat. Indeed, it is that belief that nothing should ever be killed that can lead to the causing of animal suffering, instead of reducing it.

It was Casamitjana, in full vegan mode, who tried to explain to anyone who would listen to him, that his former employer wasn’t responsible for a massive outbreak of bovine TB in deer through mismanagement of a wildlife sanctuary in the West Country. It’s ‘bovine TB’, not ‘deer TB’ was Jordi’s simplistic, but totally unscientific and completely wrong, explanation.

Certainly, there is nothing wrong with a meat-free diet, but equally eating meat can be just as ethical. How many people are happy to eat an intensively farmed chicken while at the same time condemning those who shoot a wild, free-living grouse? Even as a vegetarian for many years, I can understand that it is perfectly logical to argue that those who are discerning about their meat are sometimes doing more good than someone who cuts themselves off from the process. After all, it wasn’t vegans who brought about the important change from battery produced eggs to free range.

The trouble with some people in the animal rights movement is that they are more concerned about their own feelings and how pure they are, rather than any genuine animal welfare benefit. While a reverence for life is something to applaud, are you really bringing people with you and achieving any good by saying you won’t travel on a bus as insects might be killed on the windscreen? When considering the truly horrific ways in which billions of animals are treated sometimes in this country, but certainly around the world, saving the lives of a few individual insects comes far down the list.

Quite where this ruling by an employment tribunal will lead is unclear – does it set a precedent? If so, what of other sincerely held beliefs? Many people strongly believe in eating humanely produced meat or that hunting with hounds is the most natural and humane method of wildlife management.

Could the ethical carnivore or hunter now be considered worthy of protection by law?

Jim Barrington is a former Executive Director of the League Against Cruel Sports. He is now an animal welfare consultant to the Countryside Alliance. Follow him on twitter @jimbarrington

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