|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
6th European Vegetarian Congress
Bussolengo, Italy, September 21 - 26, 1997
| Opening Speeches at the Congress
President of AVI (Italian Vegetarian Society)
As President of AVI, I welcome you to the 6th European Vegetarian Congress, in the hope that it will be a truly European congress - not just a meeting of vegetarians, but a starting point for fresh communication with the outside world. Numbers of vegetarians in Italy, Europe and the rest of the world are constantly growing. Mad cow disease has shown that we were right, that it really is mad to eat meat, kill animals and exploit them for our own purposes.
Here in Italy we are embarking on a series of legal initiatives to secure State guarantees that a vegetarian meal option will always be available in public sector catering facilities. All European constitutions guarantee equal rights for their citizens, but we are being discriminated against if our children at school or our sick in hospital cannot obtain vegetarian food. We at AVI believe that this Congress must mark a real step forward: vegetarians must hide no longer - we must stand up for our rights.
Although there are so many of us, we are admittedly not very united. There are, and unfortunately will continue to be, too many different groupings among us. With the advent of Mad Cow Disease, vegetarianism has become a convenient fashion for many. Let us hope that it becomes a positive fashion which goes beyond mere self interest!
First of all I would like to say that I have been working alongside Howard Lyman, IVU President, under the assumption that we were part of a team all working to promote vegetarianism world-wide and that the EVU (European Vegetarian Union) was an integral and very active part of this movement. Unfortunately we have heard from Marco Stellini that a process of separation is being initiated between our two organizations which so far have been working as one. I've been accused of interfering in EVU affairs as General Secretary of the IVU. I believe that the EVU decision to cancel the Congress would certainly have hurt the organizers because of its excessive lateness, as well denying us this important chance to meet here. But I am very happy that the Congress is taking place despite the problems and disagreements, and I think it is very positive that we are here today.
Thanks to the cooperation of the media, whose role is so vital, these congresses are publicised not only in Spain, but in places such as Thailand or India, so the IVU - ethically - had the right to act, although we were not consulted about the decision to cancel the Congress. The worst consequence of such a decision would have been the disappointment or discouragement to valiant societies and individuals fighting for the vegetarian cause in their own countries. It is for this very reason that I believe we must strive to avoid personal conflicts, because our prime objective is to find solutions to the inevitable problems, present and future.
My hope is that our Congress will be successful despite everything, so that all members of local communities can go back to their countries with renewed energy to continue working with others towards a common ideal. Vegetarianism is needed now more than ever in our world, with violence and injustice increasing on an unprecedented scale and animals dieing in their billions. We all need a vegetarian world, and that is the main reason we are here today.
On behalf of all fellow vegetarians around the world and as IVU President, I welcome each of you to this Congress. Most of the problems that we are going to discuss, and hopefully solve together, hold the key to a better future for our children and grandchildren. I'm sure that we can agree that such a goal, though longterm, is more worthy of our precious time than debate over personal disagreements, so let's get to work straightaway!
As a vegetarian, I am here to bring greetings to you all from the Green Group in the European parliament, even though not all of us are vegetarians - this is why it is important to promote greater awareness among groups close to vegetarianism. Nowadays, with the advent of mad cow disease, going vegetarian is a valid form of self-defence. This desire for self-defence gives us a good starting point, since many people are not yet sensitive to ethical or ecological considerations. It is up to us to bring such matters home to them, showing them that self-protection means the protection of us all. We must realise that there are still many ridiculous things happening in Europe and the rest of the world. Despite mad cow disease, for example, there are moves to relaunch meat consumption to combat the predictable decline in sales. We are doing our best to encourage organic livestock methods, and now, fortunately, there are standards governing this in addition to those for organic crops. Unfortunately organic is still only a small proportion of total production, and anyone who has witnessed intensive farming knows how the animals suffer.
We have succeeded in getting changes to standards on veal production, often seen by consumers as white meat. There is widespread confusion over the white meat -/ red meat issue. People hear of a connection between red meat and cancer of the digestive system, but they are unclear what red meat is - they think veal is white meat, whereas actually veal consumption involves the same risks as beef. The suffering of veal calves is enormous with present methods, and all this for such a small market - veal is eaten mainly in Southern Europe, especially Italy and France. It is produced artificially in Northern Europe, in Holland, where the animals are not even allowed to ruminate normally, and are given artificial feed containing metals other than iron to stop the blood going red.
We have finally managed to get something done about these serious anomalies, but unfortunately the changes are not due until 2002, and will probably even then get put back several years. As usual, even when a proposal is seen to be right, implementation takes years. We appreciate that when animals are involved people's interests actually lie elsewhere. Take the example of the European legislation banning cosmetic testing on animals: the 1998 deadline will certainly be ignored on the grounds that there are no effective systems to replace something which actually is itself ineffective. Obviously there must be effective methods to protect the consumer, but animal testing is far from effective - it is only a trick to protect companies putting unsafe products on the market. The only real international law is the one laid down by the World Trade Organization: the law of the market, so that all ethical and health considerations are completely disregarded. And this is why, in addition to the ethical and health aspects so important to us, we find that so many traditionally vegetarian peoples are left to die of hunger so that the rich countries of the North can continue to eat meat, taking away the cereals essential to the survival of these peoples. Consequently a small number of meateaters - less than a billion of them - are threatening with starvation the other five billion who do not have enough food. I believe that these points, together with the lessons of mad cow disease, make a very strong case for vegetarianism as an ethical choice, a choice for peace among human beings, peace with nature: a choice to guarantee the future of the whole planet.
- translations by Hugh Rees, Milan - commissioned by Associazione Vegetariana Italiana (AVI)