By Sonia Elks
LONDON, Jan 2 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Veganism should be recognised a protected belief covered by anti-discrimination law, a British zoologist will argue at a landmark legal hearing on Thursday.
Jordi Casamitjana is suing his former employer, the League Against Cruel Sports, for wrongful dismissal after a dispute over pension investments.
He argues that his ethical veganism – a commitment to avoiding all harm to animals - is a way of life that should be treated in the same way as a religion or other deeply-held beliefs protected under the law.
That argument will be tested at a hearing that opened on Thursday in Britain, where increasing numbers of people are cutting down on meat and dairy products as awareness of the industry's contribution to climate change grows.
"Ethical veganism is a philosophical belief held by a significant and growing portion of the population in the UK and around the world," said Casamitjana's lawyer Peter Daly.
"This case, if successful, will establish that the belief entitles ethical vegans to protection from discrimination."
A spokeswoman for the League Against Cruel Sports said Casamitjana was dismissed for gross misconduct that did not relate to his ethical beliefs.
The League does not challenge his assertion that his beliefs should be protected, but the tribunal in the eastern city of Norwich will hold a separate hearing to rule on the issue because it sets a precedent for other cases.
A full hearing over the employment dispute will follow in February.
Vegans avoid eating all animal products including eggs and dairy products.
Ethical veganism has no agreed definition but tends to go further by avoiding all links to animal exploitation, such as wearing wool or leather, or using products tested on animals.
Casamitjana's beliefs in the sanctity of animal life "extend beyond matters of food into all areas of his consumption", according to documents submitted to the tribunal.
He tries to skip gatherings where non-vegan food is served, avoids sitting on leather seats, and will walk for up to an hour "to avoid accidental crashes with insects or birds that may occur when taking a bus", he said in a statement.
"The way I treat my belief in ethical veganism is no different to the way those who practise a religion treat the rules which govern their religion," he added.
Philosophical beliefs must meet a series of legal tests in order to be protected under the Equality Act 2010.
These include showing they are genuinely held, they relate to a weighty aspect of human life, and they are worthy of respect in a democratic society. (Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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