by Matthew Overton
With World Vegan Month coming to an end, I feel inspired by and hopeful due to the increasing attention veganism is receiving in the mainstream media – upon entering into an increasing number of different discourses, it allows for a greater number of people to engage with the philosophy and reflect upon veganism’s core message. An unfortunate recent development, however, has shown UK MPs reject an inclusion of an EU treaty article which stated animals were sentient; giving this status a legal basis. While it was a narrowly defeated vote to include the sentience provision, it does not, of course, nullify scientific consensus, such as that arrived at during the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness (2012), that non-human animals are in fact sentient beings.
As a relatively recent vegan and a law student at the University of Bristol, I am now able to view my field through a vegan lens and anticipate how legal issues will particularly affect animals and vegans. While studying abroad at the University of Hong Kong as part of my degree, I had the privilege of studying a course in Animal law, which helped to open my eyes to veganism and the importance of respecting non-human animals.
I have been thankful to the IVRA for the opportunity to act as their Student Liaison and aid in their case work. It has been fascinating to keep up to date with the law as it relates to veganism, and I hope to continue my role with the IVRA for the time to come.
Since returning to study at Bristol this year for the final year of my law degree, I have been keen to engage with local animal rights outreach efforts. Following the same vein, I also hope to raise consciousness concerning veganism in my academic field, as has been done already by my IVRA colleagues, by concentrating a significant amount of my Final Year Research Project on the vegan movement. In this paper, I hope to explore veganism as a protected non-religious belief, particularly under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and various Equality legislation in the UK.
In my project I will examine how the courts have dealt with non-religious rights in comparison to religious rights; approaching the question from both theoretical and practical standpoints. I will dedicate a section to the many extended areas into which one’s personal beliefs extend, including health care law; family law and parental rights concerning the education of one’s children in line with a specific belief; protection from discrimination in various areas, particularly in one’s employment. These examples will form a part of my discussion of the law in the area and I will assess whether the law, as it is applied, adequately protects those who hold vegan convictions.
While endeavouring to raise the profile of veganism in the legal sphere through my academic work, I encourage any students reading this who have a passion for veganism to do so also in their respective departments. For example, education students can consider veganism as a protected belief and ways they can accommodate it in daily practice; health care students can consider it in relation to a variety of issues, including hospital food, care of the elderly and power of attorney; and politics students are well-placed to raise the issue of veganism and animal rights.
As a member of the editorial committee of the new IVRA journal, I will be the first point of contact for student contributions – I, therefore, implore any students who have written/have an idea for a journal article related to veganism and your field to get in touch with me at the email below. I would be happy to read your work and to continue academic discussions of veganism.
Estimates and polls carried out and subsequently published in 2016, have shown veganism to have risen around 360% in the UK since the decade prior. With the ease of spreading information through social media only getting easier as time goes on, at this pace the UK could see at least near to 10% of its population become vegan in 20 years’ time. Veganism is something which the more you look into and allow yourself to embrace the natural feeling of empathy towards non-human animals, the further you realise that it is something you can never really turn away from, because this empathy is in us all from birth. Through the contribution of further academic writing on a platform such as this one, together we can help to sow seeds of compassion and encourage further empathetic writers to contribute to the fast-growing discourse in which veganism has found itself flourishing.