Like most of us, I became a veterinarian to help animals. I grew up in Perth watching truckloads of stressed, overcrowded sheep heading to the docks to commence appalling sea voyages, usually to Middle Eastern destinations. Observation soon turned to action however, and I spent most of 1996 helping launch Australia’s campaign against the trade. But I never expected animal advocacy would take me around the world.
In the last three months I’ve criss-crossed New Zealand, venturing occasionally to Australian, and even European cities, giving talks on animal welfare issues to universities, conferences and other key audiences, from Dunedin to Portugal, and to students, lab animal scientists and national veterinary associations. I recently returned so quickly from a London event to attend an Auckland event that I didn't even have time to get jet-lagged! I never knew that was possible.
From 2013 – 2014 I lived in the picturesque medieval market town of Winchester, UK, where I was privileged to have the opportunity to establish a new Centre for Animal Welfare at the University of Winchester (www.winchester.ac.uk/caw). Winchester now has both undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in animal welfare, including an MSc Animal Welfare Science, Ethics and Law (http://www.winchester.ac.uk/Studyhere/Pages/msc-animal-welfare-science-ethics-and-law.aspx), which covers all of the theoretical curricula included in the EU and US veterinary specialty qualifications in animal welfare. To maximise its accessibility for veterinarians working worldwide, I designed this MSc to be entirely distance-learning, with part-time enrolment options available. It has proven extremely popular.
Being Australian, however, I’ve always missed our deep blue skies, sun and perfect beaches. The natural beauty of our landscapes is second to none, and for all its faults, Australian society also ranks among the world’s best. And so I was delighted to be offered a position at SAFE in New Zealand recently – one of the few countries worldwide similarly blessed with a spectacular landscape (some would argue, even better), and a comparable social system.
In July 2017 I joined SAFE (Save Animals from Exploitation) as Director of Research and Education. I remain on Faculty at the University of Winchester, and am now also a member of the University of Canterbury Centre for Human-Animal Studies (http://www.nzchas.canterbury.ac.nz) in Christchurch.
SAFE is New Zealand’s most active and successful animal advocacy organisation, with numerous important campaign successes in recent years. Key examples have included national bans on battery cages for laying hens announced in 2012 (a ten year phase out will allow their use until 2022), bans on cosmetics testing using animals in 2015, and on sow gestation crates in the same year. In 2017 a series of major New Zealand supermarket chains, food processors, and a major hotel chain, have all agreed to end sales of cage-sourced eggs in the coming decade. Jointly, these account for a very substantial proportion of national egg consumption, putting major pressure on industry to end the use of cages for laying hens.
We’re currently seeking to build on these successes with major campaigns against cages (of any kind) for laying hens, sow farrowing crates, and the abuse of calves within NZ’s
enormous dairy industry. We also regularly campaign on other animal welfare issues such as rodeos and live exports. We have an active Education department, that has produced a series of five secondary-level textbooks (http://safe.org.nz/animals-us) that have proven highly popular at high schools across New Zealand. Our active and growing SAFE Animal Squad (http://safeanimalsquad.org.nz) aims to educate children, in an age appropriate manner, about caring for and helping animals. Over 10,000 copies of our 100% Vegetarian Starter Guide (http://dev.safe.org.nz/vsg) have been distributed to New Zealanders in the last year, and over 2,000 have signed up for our six week 100% Vegetarian Challenge (http://dev.safe.org.nz/pledgeveg). The latter offers regular emails with supportive advice including recipes, advice on nutrition and eating out.
My new role as a professional animal advocate is very busy and fulfilling. Apart from giving numerous presentations, I assist with media interviews (we have over 1,000 media mentions annually), stakeholder engagement and article writing, and manage our Education and Eat Kind programmes. I’m also researching several animal welfare issues in depth, to produce a series of expert reports and fact sheets to support our campaigns. I’d like to produce a number of these, and am seeking skilled volunteers to assist. I invite any veterinary readers with sufficient time who’d like to contribute or build up their CVs in these areas to contact me via http://safe.org.nz/contact-safe. I’m sure I’m far from the only veterinarian keen to advocate for animals!
Andrew Knight is Director of Research and Education for SAFE in New Zealand. He is also Professor of Animal Welfare and Ethics, and Founding Director of the Centre for Animal Welfare, at the University of Winchester; a European and RCVS Veterinary Specialist in Animal Welfare Science, Ethics and Law; an American Veterinary Specialist in Animal Welfare; a Fellow of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, and a Senior Fellow of the UK Higher Education Academy. He has over 65 academic publications and a series of youtube videos on animal issues. His informational websites include www.AnimalExperiments.info, www.HumaneLearning.info and www.VegePets.info.