Sydney Uni Veterinary Faculty Alumni Award Awarded to our President

June 20, 2012


The 2012 University if Sydney Veterinary Faculty Alumni Award for Outstanding Young Alumni Achievement was award to our president, Dr Katherine van Ekert. 


The Faculty presents awards across four areas of achievement: Community, International, Professional and Young Alumni, to showcase our outstanding alumni. In this inaugural year the other alumni award winners are:


Emeritus Professor  Paul Canfield,  BVSc ’73, PhD ’78,  CertEdStud  ’2001, DVSc ‘03  for  Outstanding Professional Achievement

Professor Margaret Rose, BVSc ’69, PhD  ’80  UNSW for  Outstanding Professional Achievement

Professor John Fairbrother, BVSc ’73, PhD ’81  for Outstanding  International Achievement


Katherine’s speech


“Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen


I feel honoured to be standing here today and accepting this award for outstanding young achievement. I accept this award on behalf of our organisation, Sentient, The Veterinary Institute for Animal Ethics. Our executive has all been working very hard and it is by chance that I'm the only baby under thirty on the team!


How exciting it is to be standing amongst Professors Paul Canfield, Margaret Rose, and John Fairbrother. I cannot help but feel a little out of place! I sincerely thank those people involved in my nomination for the award and for the decision. To me, this is an indication that there is not only a growing awareness and interest in animal protection issues, but that there is an acceptance that this issue has an important place in this hallowed place of learning, research and influence.


Like many in the profession, I knew from a very early age that I wanted to be a vet. I figured that this would allow me to speak on behalf of animals with some authority, and to know what they need. 


I am glad that I chose to study at Sydney. Not only was I a sucker for Ralph's Cafe's cooking, but I felt proud to be studying at Australia's oldest university, which has produced such notable and outstanding citizens throughout the years.


I think that our faculty's accreditation both in the UK and US says enough. I was privileged to experience the highest standards of teaching and resources and the support and confidence entrusted by our lecturers contributed significantly to my learning. This support was extended to us as students in the faculty-based student organisation, Veterinary Science Animal Welfare. Being addressed as “colleagues” was symbolic to me, as it signified trust and respect. The valued partnerships which were formed have endured to this day.


I would like to see animal welfare as an integral part of veterinary curricula across the country. Students and youth are part of our future, and they will be influenced by the values  and guidance of our learned teachers. Once we graduate, we pledge under our oath to uphold animal welfare. But I cannot help but feel that to date, animal welfare is frequently compromised to commercial interests. While such interests cannot be ignored, I consider that the veterinary profession could be more active in this domain. We are uniquely equipped with the skills and knowledge to comment on the conditions by which animals in our world are treated and to influence the decisions that are made in how they are utilised for our benefit.


This was the reason that Rosemary Elliott, Adele Lloyd and Matt Lloyd and I decided to form Sentient. Our aim is to provide a voice, and a solid evidence-based platform that will influence veterinarians to independently play their role and use their expertise in addressing animal welfare needs. We also aim to articulate the need to address these issues within an ethical framework. Science and values must work together to achieve our vision of a world where animals are treated with empathy and respect. 


We believe that change is possible. Consumers are influenced by what they are becoming increasingly aware of, and their preferences are changing: many Australian buyers are choosing to pay more for eggs from happier chickens and meat from non-intensively farmed animals. Animal welfare literature is now bountiful and is no longer the domain of simply the heart-felt. This impacts on producers where it makes a difference: their profit margins.


We as veterinarians can contribute to this influence by providing the evidence to counter some of the myths and to provide some rationality to balance the public’s sometime emotional reactions to recent exposes and media hype. Real change can happen when there is a good reason for it to happen.


Registered almost a year ago, so far Sentient has established key contacts nationally and internationally, and has contributed to debates on issues such as live animal exports, intensive poultry and pig industries, the use of animals in research, and companion animal welfare.


As founding President, I am proud to be a part of Sentient as it evolves and works to ensure that the needs of all animals are appropriately and ethically addressed and that animal welfare becomes a higher priority in this society. I see animal protection as the next great social justice movement and am confident that veterinarians can play a pivotal role in promoting this change. 


Thank you all once again.”


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