The Vegan Society has said it could seek legal action over a voucher scheme which only allows families to access dairy milk
Vegans have hit out at a voucher scheme aimed at encouraging healthy eating for pregnant women and young children.
Health bosses have been urged to be inclusive of vegans through its Best Start voucher scheme by allowing vouchers to be spent on non-dairy milk and to ensure the vitamin D in any supplements being offered is vegan-friendly.
The Vegan Society has written a formal letter to NHS Scotland about its scheme - to be launched this summer - that allows some pregnant women and parents of young children to claim free vouchers to spend on milk, fruit and vegetables.
The charity says the restriction imposed by the NHS on the purchase of plant milk will unfairly and unreasonably disadvantage vegans.
Healthy Start rules say vouchers can be used to purchase milk, which “must be plain cow’s milk” and can be whole, semi-skimmed or skimmed. It must also be pasteurised, sterilised, long-life or ultra-heat treated. Soya milk is ruled out, alongside flavoured, coloured, evaporated, condensed, goat’s and powdered milk (except infant formula) and milk with additives such as vitamins. Infant formula must be “based on cow’s milk”.
Veganism is recognised as a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010, meaning public bodies must ensure due regard is given to the community’s needs.
Dr Jeanette Rowley, vegan rights advocate at The Vegan Society, and solicitor Edie Bowles from Advocates for Animals said the scheme could be “inadvertently discriminatory” without any lawful justification.
Dr Rowley said: “The aim of the new Best Start voucher scheme is to support healthy eating. The Scottish Government has already acknowledged the nutritional benefits of plant milk, and has no lawful grounds to restrict the purchase of milk to cow milk only.
“This proposed restriction unfairly disadvantages vegans and may constitute discrimination under equality law.”
Heather Russell, dietitian at The Vegan Society, added: “It is important for everyone to eat calcium-rich foods daily and fortified plant milk plays an important role in vegan nutrition.
“In fact, the UK’s Eatwell Guide recognises that fortified plant milk represents a valuable alternative to cow’s milk. Calcium content is comparable and the soya variety is similar to cow’s milk in terms of protein quantity and quality.”
The NHS has 14 days to respond to the letter, after which The Vegan Society said it will consider legal options.