When you think of Milan, what springs to mind? High fashion, sharp suits, coffee, art and centuries of Italian culture, perhaps. Well now you can add to that list The Vegan Society’s International Rights Network conference 2019! For 2 days last month, leading legal and campaigning experts from around the world came together in the fashion capital of the world, Milan, to discuss how we can use the law to further vegan legal rights. I’m told that for those 2 days the average standard of dress dipped somewhat, however, I’m sure this was just a coincidence.
The conference has been going for a number of years already under the name of the International Vegan Rights Alliance (IVRA) and was founded by tireless vegan rights advocate Jeanette Rowley, who is now employed by The Vegan Society. She has been supported over the years by volunteer, Loukas, who said a tearful goodbye to attendees as, due to the demands of his full-time employment, is no longer be able to devote the necessary time and resources to supporting the network. The conference was hosted by the University of Milan at the request of Milan-based lawyer and Assistant Professor, Dr Carlo Prisco.
The conference opened with a video message from The Vegan Society’s CEO, George Gill, officially announcing the incorporation of the IVRA into The Vegan Society and the new name – The Vegan Society’s International Rights Network. The Vegan Society will now be able to support the growth of the network and individual network members in lots of ways, such as fundraising/campaigning advice, media support and blog opportunities.
There were a couple of practical and technical issues to overcome initially, but these were expertly dealt with by the conference organisers, allowing the conference to run smoothly.
The format of the conference was to have several presentations from network members and other experts on a particular theme, followed by a panel discussion where the audience could ask questions of the panel. The presentations were all very informative and interesting, focusing on furthering the rights of vegans in order to ultimately benefit animals. Vegans’ legal rights are important because they can be supported using existing human rights and equality legislation, whilst we are not yet in a position to support animal rights through law, due to the prevailing attitudes of the wider population.
Highlights from the myriad of excellent presentations were Nuno Alvim and Balázs Tarsoly. Nuno heads up the Portuguese Vegetarian Society, which secured a huge win for veganism in 2017 when its campaign to enshrine in law, a guaranteed vegan option on every public sector menu, was successful. Nuno shared his expert advice for global campaigns seeking to get similar laws in their respective countries. This advice is invaluable for The Vegan Society’s campaign, Catering for Everyone, to get a vegan option on every UK public sector menu.
In light of the recent EU proposal to restrict ‘meaty’ terms like ‘burger’ and ‘sausage’ to meat products, Balázs added to the debate by explaining the Vexikon idea. This is a beautifully designed pamphlet containing new vegan terminology for mock-meat products, decided on by a democratic process. This idea was met with a mixture of opinions, some attendees are still convinced that current terms must be kept and legislation to restrict terminology must be fought against.
Other topics that were discussed included vegan in-flight catering (The Vegan Society’s FlyVe campaign) and the scope of law to further veganism. All topics and presentations inspired plenty of healthy debate and the sharing of ideas and strategies.
Some excellent Italian vegan food and a quick run around the outside of the 4th largest church in the world (Duomo) later, and we were back on the plane home. We were pleased to have been part of such an amazing conference and hopeful that the resources and infrastructure provided by The Vegan Society will ensure that the International Rights Network will continue to grow and flourish. We hope to see all of you and more at next year’s conference in Portugal, watch out for more details later in the year!