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Congress Logo 33rd World Vegetarian Congress
Chiang Mai, Thailand, January 4 - 10, 1999
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Vegetarians Plan Carnivore Converts
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.c The Associated Press


CHIANG MAI, Thailand (AP) -- Vegetarians from around the world pledged Sunday to convert millions of meat-eaters by the end of the century and launched an Asian Vegetarian Union.

The Bangkok-based Asian group seeks to foster the still-fledgling vegetarian movements in many Asian countries and counter a trend among the continent's youth to ape Western carnivorous habits.

More than 400 participants from 30 countries at the 33rd World Vegetarian Congress concluding Sunday called on vegetarian groups all over the world to invite people to give up meat for the new millennium.

A mass pledge-taking ceremony is planned at midnight, Dec. 31.

The congress set a goal of converting at least 5 percent of then population in areas where vegetarian societies exist.

``Apart from being a matter of compassion, it is in humankind's interest to adopt a vegetarian diet if we are to avoid starvation, disease, pollution and ecological damage on a vast scale,'' said one congress official, Nitin Mehta.

Delegates to the meeting of the 110-year-old International Vegetarian Union included doctors, nutrition experts, Indian religious gurus, Western stock brokers and animal-rights activists.

Discussions ranged from the latest studies on ways to treat AIDS with herbs and a plant-based diet to how the meat industry continues to deplete water supplies and convert forest areas into grazing lands.

``We still live in a non-vegetarian world. In a way, vegetarians are aliens, like Martians,'' said Maxwell G. Lee, the union's deputy president, a vegetarian since the age of 12.

Lee and others agreed that vegetarianism has grown rapidly in North America and Europe, with most converts giving up meat for health rather than ethical or environmental reasons.

But affluence and the copying of mainstream Western ways have increased meat consumption in Asia, especially among the young. Delegates from China, India and Japan, where a long tradition of vegetarianism exists, said ways have to be found to counter the trend.

The Asian Vegetarian Union selected an ad hoc committee to draw up a constitution and organize the first congress in two years' time. The next congress of the International Vegetarian Union is scheduled for 2000 in Toronto, Canada.