Vegetarianism not a Protected Belief under the Equality Act
In Conisbee V Crossley Farms and ors, the tribunal had to consider whether vegetarianism was capable of being a philosophical belief and as such capable of protection under the Equality Act 2010. The Act refers to a philosophical belief as having the following criteria: the belief must be genuinely held and not a mere opinion or viewpoint on the present state of information available; the belief must be a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour; the belief must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance and be worth of respect in a democratic society; and the belief must be compatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
The tribunal concluded that whilst the claimant had a genuine belief in vegetarianism, vegetarianism is not about human life and behaviour, it is a life style choice – in the claimant’s view believing that the world would be a better place if animals were not killed for food. An admirable sentiment it said, but one that cannot altogether be described as relating to weight and a substantial aspect of human life and behaviour. It specifically contrasted vegetarianism with veganism, saying there is a clear cogency and cohesion in vegan belief. Vegans it said, simply do not accept the practice under any circumstances of eating meat, fish or dairy products, and have distinct concerns about the way animals are reared, the clear belief that killing and eating animals is contrary to a civilised society and also against climate control. By contrast, there are numerous, differing and wide varying reasons for adopting vegetarianism.
This case shows that the issue of what constitutes a philosophical belief will continue to be a thorny one and that rather than being an immovable concept, it is one that changes as society does. With respect to the tribunal, we have doubts about the contrast drawn with veganism and the suggestion that this would qualify as a philosophical belief. In recent years, the face of veganism has changed enormously, with an increasing number of people adopting ‘plant based’ diets for a variety of reasons, often based on nutrition, rather than on one cogent and cohesive belief.