Vegans 'could take public sector caterers to court'
Holyrood committee told there should be vegan options on all hospital and school menus.
Vegans could make court claims against public sector caterers who do not provide them with appropriate menu options, a Holyrood committee has been told.
The public petitions committee is considering a call by campaigners for a new law enshrining vegan options in all public sector menus, from schools and hospitals to prisons.
Speaking to the committee on Thursday, Barbara Bolton of Go Vegan Scotland said veganism was a protected belief under equalities and human rights legislation.
She said the voluntary campaign group had carried out a survey of more than 500 vegans in Scotland and found "systemic failure... particularly in hospitals and schools".
Ms Bolton pointed out that both the public and private spheres needed to adhere to vegans' rights, but that public bodies had the added obligation "to take positive steps to address inequality".
She said: "Vegans have legal protection under human rights and equality law because the vegan philosophy passes the test for non-religious belief that is serious, cogent and worthy of respect.
"The vegan philosophy is essentially that because animals are alive in the same way that we are, we shouldn't use or kill them.
"The European Court of Human Rights has confirmed that that qualifies, and that has been conceded by the UK Government and conceded by the Scottish Government and the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
"The protected status of veganism means that we have a right to live in a way that avoids killing or using animals or paying somebody else to do that for us, and not to be discriminated against on account of our veganism."
Ms Bolton read out respondents to Go Vegan Scotland's survey which described hospitals as unwilling or unable to cater for the needs of vegan patients.
On schools, she continued: "I was contacted just yesterday by a vegan mother living in Glasgow who is trying to get suitable food for her daughter in nursery.
"Glasgow City Council are basically refusing.
"Responses to our survey included: 'Our local primary has vegetarian but not vegan options. In order to obtain other dietary requirements you have to prove medical needs.
"Another said: 'Only vegan school dinner option is a dry baked potato. My children do not do school dinners for that reason. This means my youngest misses out on free school meals and is the only child taking a packed lunch.'"
Ms Bolton added: "Ultimately if nothing's done, in terms of the human rights and equality issues, there will be claims. Claims will go to court.
"We would rather avoid that, because I don't think that's the right way, the ideal way, to resolve issues like this."