The Brighton Vegfest UK held a special Party Political Conference where politicians from the UK’s major political parties presented manifestos on health, environment and food sustainability, and animal welfare. This special conference was held because of the general election to be held on Thursday, May 7. 

Vegfest UK is to be congratulated for not only hosting the conference but also for its success. The speakers included Caroline Allen (Green), Chris Bowers (LibDems) Paul Chandler (LibDems), Vanessa Hudson (Animal Welfare Party), Councillor Mary Mears (Conservative), Kerry McCarthy MP (Labour), Purna Sen (Labour), Henry Smith MP (Conservative), and Keith Taylor MEP (Green). 

These are the introductory remarks that I made at the beginning of the final session of the conference. The focus of which was animal welfare. For more on my views on making animal protection a mainstream political issue, please read my book, Growl, and visit the Animal Rights Challenge pages on this website.

By the way, Vegfest UK announced that 12,000 visitors attended the event over the weekend of March 28-29.

Opening Remarks

Henry Smith speaking with Caroline Allen listening.

Henry Smith speaking with Caroline Allen listening.

Some basic assumptions first based upon 40 years of experience as a full time vegan animal rights campaigner.

Not everyone is going to go vegetarian or vegan.

Not everyone is going to embrace animal rights.

The animal rights movement isn’t going to achieve moral and legal rights for animals.

Which begs the questions: What is the role of the animal rights movement? What is our single greatest challenge?

Our role is to act as a catalyst on society to educate and inspire individual action.

Vanessa Hudson

Vanessa Hudson

Our single greatest challenge is to make animal rights a mainstream political issue.

Because if not everyone is going care as we do, we need laws — progressive and enforced — to protect animals with moral and legal rights.

To achieve this we need to embed the values of animal rights into the ideology of the mainstream political parties.

And this is why this debate is very important.

As someone who was an organiser in the first Putting Animals into Politics campaigns in the 1970s and 1980s, my assessment of our track record in making animal rights a mainstream political issue is mixed.

Kerry McCarthy, Purna Sen and Kim Stallwood.

Kerry McCarthy, Purna Sen and Kim Stallwood.

Mixed in the sense that there is progress to report. A general shift in the direction toward awareness of animal issues and interest in vegan, cruelty-free living. Vegfest is testimony to the progress. But a recent study in the USA showed that of US adults age 17 and over:

2% are current vegetarian/vegan
10% are former vegetarian/vegan
88% have never been vegetarian/vegan

This substantiates my concern about relying upon social justice for animals as an optional, cruelty-free lifestyle choice and, in particular, framing vegan living as a fashionable thing to do. Trends come and go. Public opinion is fickle.

Individual change is good and essential.

But institutional change as well is better and enduring but more difficult to achieve. Enduing because once a law is a law it’s difficult to change it.

From here I improvised on closing remarks underscoring the importance of the conference.

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