At the command of an anonymous Trustee of the Vegetarian Society UK its Chief Executive has had to write to VEGA in a profractorial attempt to restrict use and adornments with “our V-Symbol". The society insitgated a subsequent intervention by a Trading Standards Officer. There follows VEGA's reply to clarify the international status of the free range of the sprouting-seed emblem.
Vegetarian Society UK
Mr. Dave Raftery
Trading Standards Division
Trafford Metropolitan Borough
9d Crossbank Road
Thank you for your letter of 16 January 2004, which you were bidden to send by an anonymous member of your Trustees. We have also received a relevant letter from the Trading Standards Division of Trafford Metropolitan Borough, in the name of Mr. Dave Raftery, Principal TSO. I am circulating copies of this correspondence with further material to the participants with names.
Further relevant comment can be found on our website. We are delighted that it is receiving so much attention. We have been of assistance to TSOs on actions over misleading labelling and as part of our surveillance and monitoring at livestock markets in assistance in prosecutions over the excessive cruelty inflicted on the animals. Latterly we have been busy with the Food Standards Agency and the Farm Animal Welfare Council, where we meet obduracy in Jewish and Muslim dogmatism over animal welfare and labelling as harmful as the Vegetarian Society’s on such matters.
I write as the one-time chairman of the publicity sub-committee and Research Section of the London Vegetarian Society, whence the mark originated in preparation for the launch by the Vegetarian Society UK in 1976 of its Green Plan for farming, food, health and the land, with offshoots under the banners of the Campaign for Real Bread and an Assalt Course. These were accepted as official policy by the VSUK, but rapidly and forthrightly pursued by livelier elements better informed with the essentials of the Green Plan.
I was therefore much involved with developments of policies in which we saw vegetarianism “coming out” and contributing to the common good in an educational way in the manner befitting the functions of a registered charity. We were also concerned at this time with a livelier name for the VSUK’s publication. VIVA and VEGA were mooted. As I remember it, VIVA was associated during these times with the BATA shoe company and with an awful product of the British car-making industry. The VSUK ultimately rejected the name VEGA, and merely reduced the title of its publication to the Vegetarian, rather than the British Vegetarian.
Much thought was devoted by the volunteers in London to these matters. Mike Storm, with many talents from work on TV productions, was one of this band of volunteers asked to develop an emblem implying the promise in a seedling of a typical food staple and in harmony with mottos and catchwords that illustrated the scope of the vegetarian message.
It was never intended as a trademark: quite the reverse, it was a “vegetarianism-is-here” emblem, just as the Welsh have their leek or “taffydil”, the Irish their shamrock, and as butchers and graziers were wont to decorate their stationery and shops with pictures of the animals whose mortal remains they purveyed; and barbers’ shops displayed international emblems of their calling. In efforts at avoiding an overload of significance we chose the left-hand dominance in the leaves, to prevent exploitation as a commercially exploited tick of approval. So, if anything, it’s a seedling symbol and much copied and imitated in that sense. The V allusion came in useful, as the letter appeared in many relevant words in the vocabulary – although quite a few others could be rated exceptionable.
Green was the apt colour, limited to black for cheap copies. This became an increasingly significant choice, as it emerged in our context in a good sense and was practicable. Many people today sport a bow symbol with colours chosen to display their allegiance.
I enclose copies of a few of the first applications of the emblem / symbol. The carrier bags (then not biodegradable, which in this context is fortunate) were given away in thousands and sold at cost. Small shops welcomed them because few had printed bags of their own. I have an old version that has made many brave journeys to Tesco and Sainsbury’s. Would your complaining Trustee like one of these valuable vintage relics? We debated the wording: should it be Go Vegetarian or Be A Vegetarian? However, all these demonstrations of the emblem went unconfined, in a nice anticipation of the FAWC’s Five Freedoms, and they bore no proprietorial signature, by intent. The lone symbol on ties prompted occasional enquiries in the belief that the wearer might have been vasectomised, but it was a nice opening gambit. Large placards and banners used for street demonstrations (as at the Royal Smithfield Show, for instance), identified the contingent with inclusion of the VSUK’s name, but the emblem and message dominated.
The Vegetarian Society’s versions of the emblem flout many of the intentions and applications of the original. Unapt and impractical colourings are used (why submerge it in blue and orange, for instance?) and the lasso destroys the impressions of freedom (and the flight of a bird). Even the V allusions are muted. It may be claimed as a trademark, but it isn’t eligible as an emblem to engage the observer’s attention as Mike Storm’s designs for the emblem have done.
Whereas organisations such as the RSPCA and Soil Association floated commercial enterprise to monitor or oversee the demanding challenges their precepts implied on manufacturers the VSUK unwisely – and flouting the advice of its researchers – took to itself both functions, for which its knowledge and experience in food technology and production was and is inadequate. Blunders have occurred. The RSPCA, in contrast, has actually been able as a well-informed independent charity, to sponsor and publish shortcomings in its commercial Freedom Foods scheme (which, after all, promises only monitoring – which does not connote assurance). As organisations such as the Food Commission have found – and the FSA is likely to endorse and extend – the VSUK’s approved foods, sporting the healthy emblem at the price of a logo, include stinkers as the FSA’s condemnation of “unhealthy” commodities rich in sugar, salt and fat begin to receive scrutiny. I understand that the VSUK’s advertising and marketing activities have incurred warnings and restraints from the Charity Commissioners.
Likewise, the VSUK’s cruel sales of the symbol and approbations on dairy products conflict with the teaching of animal welfarists from the days of the LVS and since, as well as the messages that VEGA and the Vegan Society and societies with hidden vegetarian agendas have persistently protested. Condoning the dairy / beef / veal system, with acceptance of fees, betrays the altruistic and humane ideals the emblem represented; moreover, it halted and reversed the leverage the vegetarian constituency of consumers could exert on manufacturers and retailers to use their enterprise and resources to kinder ends. A review in the Grocer (17April 2004) of a “reduction in the growth of vegetarian and meat-free foods” over the last year and data from the latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey indicate the harm of this betrayal. The spokesman for the Food and Drink Federation rejoices in the excuses for the use of eggs and milk in approved vegetarian products (which may be meat-free but not of “liquid meat”); Dalepak’s spokesperson, with a full page advertisement and VSUK’s symbol and approval for their products to reinforce her views, declares flatly that Dalepak have no plan for any dairy-free product in the “approved” vegetarian range.
There is some consolation for those who designed the emblem and condemned claims, advertising, and approvals on dairy products. They must sadly recognise the advertisements the same weekend for probably the best advance of the last year for vegetarianism: alternative dairy-frees ranked side-by-side in the chillers with non-vegetarian dairy products. However, big advertisements in the national press displayed the commodities breaking through but, alas, without evidence of the now devalued emblem.
I refer readers to our website for our intentions for some time to abandon the emblem we designed with so much research and care. It is now replaced. We shall continue with the promise and honesty it conveyed, and hope your Trustee and others can at last see the light.
Hon. Research Advisor