I was very very happy to find out today that there is indeed a Vegan certification program comparable to the Halal (for Muslims) and Kosher (for Jews) certification programs. According to vegan.org, it is "applied to foods, clothing, cosmetics and other items that contain no animal products and are not tested on animals".
I've been praying to Krishna for this program, and even recently sent a respectful letter to the editor of hinduismtoday.com requesting a Hindu version of Halal and Kosher, after watching the movie Earthlings and seeing the way that cows are slaughtered even in supposedly Kosher slaughterhouses. Cow slaughter is hellish no matter what it is labeled.
In fact, last week we had a rather uneasy challenge in our temple. One of the Westerner devotees in the Spanish group (an Argentinian) challenged the person giving the sermon with regards to consumption of milk, cheese and yoghurt. It IS hypocritical to criticize the treatment of cows in dairy farms while at the same time purchasing these products, which finances the activities of the dairy farm industry.
The problem of this double standard is particularly visible among traditional Indian devotees, not so much among Westerners who convert to Krishna Consciousness. This is due to the traditional use of yoghurt among the Hare Krishnas in seasoning, cooking, in raitas (yoghurt-based salads) and lassi (mango and yoghurt shakes). Cheese is also used in cooking, and milk is consumed regularly.
In Vaishnava tradition, devotees frequently romanticize about Mother Cow's milk by comparing it to a human mother's milk. Traditional Hare Krishna farms, however, treat cows like royalty. The abuse that takes place in secular farms, the separation of the newborn calf from the mother, the seclusion and lack of sunlight, and unnatural diet that cows are fed, are not the norm in Indian farms. Hence, there is clearly a need among devotees to wake up, and to treat cow secretions produced in Western dairy farms as non acceptable, as per religious ahimsa (non-violence) standards.
The Vegan label is important not only for the consumer but for makers of products. It tells them that there is a market out there that is called 'Vegan', that there are people out there who under no circumstance will buy things that were tested on animals, or that somehow generated cruelty to animals in any way, shape of form.
The certification program is not perfect: it allows for machinery to be shared with non-vegan products. However, since Veganism is only now emerging in the culture and is not yet considered mainstream, the purpose of the certification program is to create increased visibility for the anti-cruelty movement and to ensure that in the future there will be an increased number of Vegan-friendly options for consumers.
Please support Vegan businesses! Buy Vegan clothes and food!