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Welcome message opening the 41st IVU World Vegfest

Dear Dr Vythilingam Pillay, president of the Malaysia Vegetarian Society and organizer of the  41st IVU World Vegfest,

Dear Delegates from All Over the World,

Welcome to the 41st IVU World Vegfest and 6thAsian Vegetarian Congress, for the first time in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This is a most important gathering, and I´m happy that I came to Malaysia for the first time to attend such an impressive and large event.

Maybe never before in all of human history has such a gathering as this –aiming to spread vegetarianism–been so important. This event is so important, because never before has meat occupied such a central place on the plates of billions of human beings. One of the consequences of this central role of meat is that now some 70 billion land animals are relentlessly slaughtered every year to meet this greed for meat and other animal products. These animals are generally raised in appalling conditions, leaving behind such a trail of impacts as to threaten the very survival of our Earth.

Because of this greed for meat, flora and fauna are aggressively destroyed in the process–while both–need each other to survive and we human beings need both. Just one example: Our wonderful Amazon rainforest–which the world at large wants to preserve–is being destroyed mostly to rear cattle and cultivate soybeans (to feed animals). 20% of the Amazon rainforest is now devastated, and livestock raising is responsible for some 80% of the clearing of areas in the Amazon region, according to the Brazilian government. According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, livestock are among the three main causes of every significant environmental problem, including earth degradation, climate change, air pollution, water scarcity and contamination, and biodiversity loss.

The meat centered diet is also responsible in great measure for what Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), calls the “end of modern medicine”, which is being caused by antibiotic resistance. “Things as common as a strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill.” Why is this happening? The main reason that Dr Chan points to is the heavy use of antibiotics in livestock. In the U.S., a full 80% of the country’s antibiotics go to farm animals, not human beings. On the other hand, most of the diseases that kill people today, could, to a great extent, be prevented with a plant-centered diet.

A plant-based diet may prevent chronic and degenerative diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, obesity, some kinds of cancer and diabetes. Because they provide so many benefits, meatless and vegan diets are supported by theAmerican Dietetic Association and other renowned institutions such as the American Institute for Cancer Research, the American Heart Association (AHA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Loma Linda University, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Mayo Clinic, among others.

Countless cruelties are committed in modern animal farming. Suffering in slaughter houses is not the only aspect to consider. We may have in our minds idyllic images of farms where animals live happy lives with their offspring. However, agribusiness long ago destroyed these images. Today, the animals that we use for food are reared in industrial farms where they are confined and submitted to cruel treatment. Nearly 100% of pigs and chickens are imprisoned in these horrific conditions for the entirety of their short lives, cattle and fish are more and more suffering the same fate. Calves, chicks and piglets are separated from their mothers a few days after they are born and put under very artificial and cruel conditions generating stress and diseases that are fought against with even more deplorable measures: debeaking, tail, teeth and genitalia cutting– all without anesthesia. They only leave this condition to meet death when they are torn, scalded, skinned and quartered, most of the time while still alive.

Asia is a region in which vegetarianism has long had an important presence. However, Asian urban populations are more and more following a meat-centered diet (as do most affluent peoples). Fortunately, we can also see signs that vegetarianism is making its appearance in a more visible way all around the world–including in Asia–as never before. It is high time Asia rediscovered its past plant-centered diets in order to meet contemporary challenges.

In spite of our many challenges in promoting vegetarianism, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and we are steadily on our way. Vegetarianism is possible! For example, in my own country, Brazil, 8% of the Brazilians have already declared themselves to be vegetarians.

However, it is not enough to be vegetarians. We also have to be activists for vegetarianism. We have to be the voice of the voiceless. It is our duty to do our utmost to defend our defenseless fellow animals.

Thank you, Malaysia, for hosting the Asian Vegetarian Congress and IVU World Vegfest. Thank you all for your unwavering support and for coming from different and faraway parts of the world to attend this very important event.

Marly Winckler – IVU chair

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