The recently-approved new law stipulates that canteens at all schools, universities, hospitals, prisons and other public buildings must start providing food that is free from animal products – also referred to as a ‘strict vegetarian option’ – within the next six months.
A similar petition on the UK’s Parliament.uk website, started last October, has so far gathered 16,560 signatures. It needs 100,000 before April 3 in order to be debated in Parliament.
Nuno Alvim, a spokesperson for Associação Vegetariana Portuguesa, said: ‘We feel this is a major breakthrough in Portugal because it’s the first time we have any law that specifically mentions vegetarianism.
‘It will promote diversity of eating habits and encourage more people to choose the veggie option as it becomes more widely available.
‘This is, of course, predicted to have a significant impact on the population’s health foremost, but also on animals and the environment in the long run.
‘Promoting the rights of the vegan population is as important as campaigning and informing people to adopt veganism, in our view.’
The new law was pushed forward after the joint efforts of three left-wing political parties, and was approved by a large majority on March 3.
And it has given renewed hope to vegan campaigners in Britain that a similar law will be passed here.
Dietitian Heather Russell, from the UK’s Vegan Society, said: ‘Hospitals, prisons and places of education need to cater in a way that respects equality and diversity but, unfortunately, it can still be difficult to obtain vegan meals in some settings.
‘Staff training can contribute to this issue as people working in institutions may not have been educated about a vegan diet.
‘Our campaigning work aims to achieve just what the Portuguese law has – to ensure that nutritious vegan food is always readily available. I am working with health professionals and caterers to help them make this a reality.’