Episode 25: Andrew Knight – Centre for Animal Welfare

Andrew Knight

Andrew Knight is a Professor of Animal Welfare and Ethics, and the founding director of the University of Winchester Centre for Animal Welfare.


Interested to learn more about animal welfare?

Check out Andrew Knight’s website at https://www.andrewknight.info/.

Explore animal welfare courses at https://www.winchester.ac.uk/research/our-impactful-research/research-and-knowledge-exchange-in-health-and-wellbeing-/research-centres/caw/.


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I’m Andrew Knight and you’re tuned into the Animal Innovations Show.


You’re tuned in to the Animal Innovations Show, where we feature people, products, services, and ideas that are helping animals and the people who care for them, live better lives.  If it’s innovative, and it helps animals, you can find it here first.  So, get ready, here comes this week’s newest innovation for animals.


Yeah, Excellent. Introduction. So, tell us a little bit more about who you are and how you’re innovating and helping animals. I’m a professor of animal welfare at the University of Winchester, about one hour south of London in the United Kingdom. I lead a Center for Animal Welfare there. We have a distance learning Master’s program in Animal welfare Scientifics and Law, which is kind of like a small factory for highly skilled and qualified animal advocates. We churn out about 30 graduates out of that program each year, most of who want to go on and have professional careers in animal advocacy themselves. I do a lot of my own sort of advocacy, researching and publishing on animal welfare issues on a regular basis. Just recently, as in last week, we published a really exciting articles about educational animal use and humane alternatives to harming animals in things like vet surgery training, working on a vegan and alternate pet foods for cats and dogs. Looking at the health outcomes of cats and dogs on these vegan diets and the environmental benefits of those diets and happiness and the behavior of the animals as well. So looking at a range of aspects there and other subjects. I do a lotta on animal research and alternatives. Actually, I’ve published a book on that some years ago, did my doctorate in that area, and I’m still speak a lot on that issue. So I have a lot of my own sort of research and publications and presentations. And I’m also I work with animal advocacy organizations. Quite a lot people send me undercover footage that they’ve taken inside factory farms, chickens and pigs and other animals highly confined, very barren, unhygienic environments and various terrible acts of cruelty being inflicted by farm workers might be things like the killing of animals or otherwise in which they’re treated. So I’m certainly these sort of undercover video clips every basically every a couple of weeks and asked to provide expert statements about those. I work with animal welfare organizations as a whole range of other things. Were often sending letters to government or publishing reports on a range of different issues as well. So I stay very active actually. Yeah, I was gonna say it sounds like you do a whole heck of a lot of stuff. You’re a very busy guy. Yeah, a bit too busy. Um, I used to be a keen salsa dancer and then then lockdown came, which happened in March of 2020 in the United Kingdom. We’ve been more or less, more or less lockdown ever since um, to varying degrees and salsa is completely stopped, which has meant that the evenings are more free for, for extra work, which has not been a good, good things. I’ve been working my butt off frankly and producing an awful lot of new publications and presentations on Annual for issues, which is great. But I’m really looking forward to salsa starting up again because if you work too hard for too long like this, you tend to burn out. It’s a big problem for academics and people working in the and welfare movement as well and I think they should all take up salsa to be honest, go, it’s a good idea. Now, you said something that really fascinated me. So you are constantly being sought out as an expert witness, Somebody having to look at that horrible animal footage as to what’s going on in slaughterhouses and other things. Tell me a little bit more about how that kind of came about and how you got into that. I’ve been um, an animal advocate going back to um, seems like when dinosaurs were roaming the earth the mid 19 nineties, uh, I’m from Perth Western Australia, which was the world capital of the live sheep export trade. And we would ship about five million sheep to mostly Middle Eastern countries where they would be slaughtered. Um, and about 100 50,000 would die at sea each year because of poor conditions on the ships. So this was almost the longest sea voyage in the world and the largest numbers of animals and huge and welfare problem. And I became involved in helping to launch the Australian campaign against the live sheep trade back at that time. And I thought, you know, this is amazing. It feels like instead of my life not having any significance, suddenly it does have significance of making a difference too millions of sentient animals, this is great. How do I set myself up so I can keep feeling like I’ve got a meaningful life for the rest of my time upon the earth, and I thought, well I can’t just keep being a pizza delivery driver. I’m doing lots of lots of interviews on the radio, people say, well that’s that’s a great set of facts and figures, but what do you do for a living by the way? And that’s a pizza? And I started to realize that people were judging what I was saying based upon the fact I was a pizza delivery driver, and you know, I thought I was a pretty damn good pizza delivery driver, frankly, but sadly it wasn’t good enough for the radio audiences. I had to think about something else. I ended up deciding, you know, it would be a great idea to become a veterinarian, I’d get to help animals for my daily bread and butter, and then on the side I could actually been informed and well qualified advocate for animal welfare, So I went into that school and I was hoping to have a quiet time, but sadly, I got rapidly drawn sideways into a huge fight to learn veterinary medicine and surgery without killing animals in the process, which was rife throughout the curriculum, as it has been many veterinary schools around the world, I ended up having a fight, another massive campaign which ended up being ultimately successful and we got rid of harmful animal usage and replaced it with human alternatives. And it spread to other veterinary schools And that was all fabulous. I almost failed my course in the process because I spent more time on that than my studies. But it was worth it. In the end then I went to London as many new graduate Australian vets do for kind of very unclear reasons given the climate so appalling. Uh And we worked in small animal practice. So with cats and dogs are part time as a locum or per diem that for many years which gave me the time to keep doing research and publishing. And I worked with organizations looking at animal research. And one of the first studies I did was to look at animal testing for carcinogenic City for chemicals that cause cancer in people. And I did this turned out to be a really important study discovering that most of the animal test data that the U. S. Holds in the epa toxic chemicals database is not considered to be useful enough to make classifications of human risk because it’s not considered being predictive enough for people. So that was that was really really interesting and a really important study. And I feel very lucky to have stumbled across. Um that’s really exciting and controversial outcome. Um because I kind of was a bit desperate to come up with something that was important enough to justify the work I was doing at the time and I was new to this area and I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was stabbing around in the dark and I happened to stumble across something incredibly important and exciting. So so that was good news. And I carried on doing that. And part way along, I discovered randomly that you could actually get a PhD doing this kind of thing. I’d had no idea about that. You can get a PhD if you keep doing enough research and publications in an area and end up providing a set of research outputs, which logically consistent form a coherent body of knowledge in an area. And so then I suddenly had a goal and I thought I need to keep doing this for a few more years, and I didn’t end up getting a PhD in that. And uh, I just kept on working in animal advocacy, producing more and more research and publications and presentations on various topics. Um and I ended up becoming a professor of Animal welfare and Ethics and asked to set up a center for Animal Welfare at the University of Winchester, because they uh, the british universities were all suddenly allowed to lift the cap on student numbers. There had been a national cap. They weren’t allowed to recruit too many students and that got removed some years ago. And all of a sudden they thought, let’s try to expand, let’s try to get more students because that comes with more fee income. And they thought, okay, what can we put on the students will find interesting? And someone high up thought that animal welfare might be interesting to students to turn out to be a spectacularly good decision. My masters has rapidly grown, the Master’s program that I set up in, animal welfare science Ethics and Law, rapidly grown to become one of the biggest ones at the university, um, and it’s entirely distance learning, so people can do that from anywhere in the world. We have students in the U. S. Uh, Australia all across europe, everywhere in the world actually doing this program. And it’s now I think considered one of the top programs in the world in its area. So that was another kind of a lucky outcome. Once again, I didn’t know what I was doing, I’ve never done anything like this before. That’s often the case for academics were kind of tossed in at the deep end from the beginning and expected to set up courses when we haven’t done anything like that before or run new centers. Um And in my case we had some additional challenges. There were no animals at the university other than the free roaming birds and other animals on campus. Whereas every other every other university that was offering courses had a big animal collection of far more laboratory or something. So we had no animals, no one knew who we were, we had no history in the field and we had hardly any staff. And on top of that we were selected to trial a new virtual learning platform.


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So over here we’ve got an expression being set up to fail. So this this felt very much like being set up to fail. Um By the way, there was only two of us in the beginning and we had to set up two degrees, an undergraduate degree in animal welfare in this Master’s degree. Uh now there are three of us, um and we’re expanding, we’re putting a little, I mean, you went from pizza delivery guy to PhD setting up masters programs on animal welfare. That’s that’s an amazing which convinces me that if I can do it then anyone can do it. And I think that a lot of the people in the animal welfare movement intrinsically intelligent enough to think outside of the box, to think beyond whatever limitations that they have grown up with. They grew up in a certain setting with certain expectations, a certain set of knowledge, maybe expectations for where they’re going to go in the future. That’s not all as solid as we often think that it is. People do have the ability to change their lives, their destinies, their pathways and it fundamental to this is simply the ability to think for yourself and the ability to work hard. It’s true that I had to work like a slave for a year or so to get into the veterinary course um in that school. It was it was very hard work but it was also not rocket science. It was also not um an experience that many young people would not have been able to do, have they really set their minds to it and been willing to say no to so many other distractions that come along and make demands of our time for a few years. If people focus, they can get to these places, what I did, I think that many, many people could do if they chose to and if it was the right time in their lives for them to be able to do that kind of thing now. Have you always been passionate about animals? I mean you pizza delivery guy, Right. I mean what was your kind of, what was your career progression before you got into this? Yeah, I suppose. I mean it sounds a bit silly I suppose. But when I was about eight, my parents gave me a book on baby animals and I looked at the pictures of baby animals and deer in a forest and thought and and marched up to my parents and said, you know, mom, dad, I’ve decided not to eat animals anymore. And and they smiled and I looked at me and said, you know, this will last about a week. They said, they said sure. Andrew no problem. And and and and thought, you know, uh we’ll just put up this for for a little while. He will forget about it. But it obviously didn’t stop decided to to stay the course. And my family was nearly vegetarian at the time. So it wasn’t a big struggle and I appreciate many families have to have a tougher time than than I did. But yeah, so that’s what I did and I just didn’t buy into the, you know, the mainstream culture I suppose of thinking that it’s normal to eat animal products and where leather and do all the sorts of things that involve. What is honestly animal exploitation. What you’ve got to do is be able to think for yourself to be honest. It’s not that hard and it’s a shame more people don’t try. Yeah. So it sounds like at an early age, I mean, you figured out this was your passion. This is something that you are going to really focus on. I mean eight to go vegetarian at eight and then from there to where you are. Yeah, I I did have a bit of trauma when I was a young man. Um I was very um upset at being um rejected by the young lady of my dreams at the time, which I think is an experience that many of us probably go through one point or another. And what this did to me was it made me really look at my life and go, you know, why has this happened? What am I, what am I doing here upon the planet? What should I do in response to this terrible thing that’s happened to me? That I couldn’t understand why this was happening? And but for whatever silly reason, it was the vital stimulus that made me really ask the question, what should I do with my life? We’re born? We have time upon the Earth. It’s an opportunity. And the big question for us all, I think, is what are we going to do with this opportunity that we’ve been given? And the best answer that I could find after a lot of soul searching was you just try to be the best person you can be. What does that mean? It means doing the most good you can, it means doing the least harm that you can. Um, and then how everyone would do that would be different for everybody’s individual circumstance, I think, and the opportunities that everyone has. But I think it’s something that everybody everywhere can aspire to doing for me. I thought, okay, I’m going to try to do something about, say, poverty. And so I joined the Red Cross soup patrol going through my city of Perth Western Australia. Did that for a little while. I got involved in human rights with amnesty International and someone left a book lying around the office about wholesale torture that was happening in Kuwait, which had been invaded by Iraq at that time. And a report had leaked out about large scale extrajudicial killings and torture of the local population. So I read that and I’ve never seen anything like that before. I was appalled and I thought, okay, I’ve got to get into human rights and do what I can do is just a campaigner with Amnesty International. I was involved in the campaign against landmines. I was involved in trying to lobby the Australian government to increase the foreign aid budget. And this was all good. But then at some point I realized I learned more basically about factory farming of animals and I realized that, hang on, there are thousands or millions of times as many animals having terrible things done to them around the world, but their ability to suffer and the importance of their lives is not thousands or millions of times less than for human beings. So mathematically because I was very logical and mathematical. I thought I thought it makes more sense if I’m if I’m serious about how do I do the most good, I need to switch and become an animal welfare advocate. And so that’s what I duly did. I’m still concerned about things like human rights and those other issues and I think that most people concerned of animal welfare are not as they are sometimes portrayed as being these crazy misanthropes who don’t care about people. It’s actually the opposite is usually true, but my primary focus certainly is on the animal welfare issues. The extra thing I’ve learned on top of all that really is the importance of not just just working all the time. Many people in the animal welfare movement do become a bit one dimensional and bit boring and they worked so hard that they tend to burn themselves out. They do it for a period of time and then they just crash. It’s really important, I think also appreciate, you know, that we’ve been given time upon the earth. It’s an opportunity not just to try to make the world a better place, but also just to enjoy it as well and experience it. And I try to have some balance in life and have some fun, like traveling a lot, doing outdoor activities, dancing salsa and by doing all that it stops burnout, gives you a mental break and you can work harder for longer and hopefully do more good in the long run. So that’s what I would, I would say I’d say figure out a pathway that hopefully enables you to be the best person you can be but don’t get too serious about it. Remember to keep the balance as it were.


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No, and I love that. I mean I love that you discovered your passion for helping helping people, helping animals, right? And really you’ve taken it to another level and you sound like you’ve created innovations all over the place along the way because as you said, I mean it didn’t exist and all right, so you’re just kind of learning the old fake it till you make it type of the thing where it’s like, hey look, yeah, I do now have this knowledge, I’m, I’m a PhD pizza delivery driver, right, who actually is an expert now in how this works. And I believe in that mentality as well as if you don’t know something, dive in, learn it, figure it out, right? Talk to other people if it’s your passion, definitely. I mean there’s a path for you to get there and I love the fact that you’ve developed now an advanced level, a Master’s level that’s available to anybody that really wants to do this and you’ve made it remote, distant learning right? Even before Covid. So I think that’s a fascinating way to try and have a big impact on the seven billion people on the planet, totally. I feel that I’m really lucky to be in this position. Sure, I do things on a personal level and that’s great. But I’m also able to help about 30 other people each year go on and develop their own careers and their own skills to go and help animals. And most of them are really keen to work in the animal advocacy movement and to help animals in their own ways. And some of them are very smart, capable, inspiring, professional people, really interesting backgrounds. A lot of them are already teaching animal welfare, but not yet qualified in it because it’s a fairly new field. Many of them are working in animal management industries of various kinds, and I’ve got a lot of expertise in their own areas. So an interesting bunch of students and most of them want to go make the world a better place for animals. So if we can help them along the way than it’s a real privilege to be able to do that actually. So it’s very rewarding. Yeah, it’s very much a forward mentality, right? And your impact is now going to be further, you know, exponentially done by these other people that you’re impacting and guiding and helping them to find their passion and giving them, you know, the abilities and the knowledge to be able to pursue that. And I think that’s really fascinating when you think about ripples out from the center to think about the number of people that you have touched and have impacted to help more animals. I really see it being something that’s going to last for years. Yeah. Some of these students say this program is life changing. They learn about issues they’ve never thought about before, because we cover the full range of animal welfare issues. So there’s about 24 issues two times 12 weeks in each semester, and sure people know about some issues, but probably no one has learned a lot about all of them before. So people do say it’s life changing um and they developed the well they get qualified with a good Masters degree that can advance their careers and help them to be taken more seriously than I was as a pizza delivery driver. And hopefully hopefully it will help them as well. Um And we also think it’s really important to give them communications skills. We think it’s not enough for them to be able to become experts on animal welfare issues and to be able to write good academic essays. So we know that the employing animal welfare organizations value communication skills, they value people being able to communicate well in an engaging way to the general public and two different stakeholder groups, whether they be scientific audiences, legislators, companies or others. So for their assignments, sure, they do all the academic essays and a big dissertation research project. But we also forced them to publish one blog on the Internet. We make them do a presentation of a power point and say that as a movie and uploaded to Youtube and some of them has previously got experience with these sorts of things. Uh many of them have never done these before. So they develop these skills. And every year we get 30 more blogs appear on the Internet on animal fur issues and 30 more presentations go out there and the top end ones are really very professional and very good. And then sometimes picked up and used to support and welfare campaigns and used in educational materials by other organizations. So it’s exciting that this is happening as a side effect of the Master’s Program. The internet’s being propagated with this wonderful set of animal welfare resources every year as well. Students can add, add them to their portfolios and their CVS as well, which is good. Yeah, this is really cool and really fascinating. Andrew, if people want to learn more, learn more about the Master’s program, learn more about you, where can they go? Yeah, it’s the University of Winchester Center for Animal Welfare. So we’ve got a lovely web page there that talks about our degrees, including the Master’s program and my websites, Andrew Knight dot info. Very easy to find on the Internet. We’ll make sure that we put links to everything out there so people can research more and learn more. As I said, this has been really fascinating. Is there anything else Andrew, do you want to mention before we wrap things up today? I’ve just involved in so many really interesting research projects. Would be fun to talk about another time. I’ll be happy to come back and talk about an animal welfare sociology history project that we think has identified the true identity of Jack the ripper. I’d be interested to talk about vegan and alternate pet foods, which is a big research project I’m involved in presently or a range of other interesting things. So and likewise, of any of your listeners out there wants to invite me to speak on those issues. That’s partly what I do. So thank you. Excellent. Well, thank you. Andrew for coming on. And we’d like to remind our listeners and viewers if you’ve got an idea for something innovative or somebody I should talk to, just go to innovations that show and let us know about it. So, thanks again Andrew for coming on. I really enjoyed it. Thanks very much. Have a great day.


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