As the Christmas lights cast a twinkling glow upon the ancient cobblestoned streets of Winchester, and students and staff head for the ice rink beneath the cathedral, or for even more distant, sunnier shores, there is a brief period in which to pause and take stock, before semester starts again. In the blur of activity during the academic year, little time is given to appreciate what is achieved. When that time finally comes, however, the results surprise us. This second year of our operation has proven no exception.
In May we formally launched our new Centre for Animal Welfare (CAW) at a high-profile event, attended by senior University representatives and around 100 external guests. Animal advocate Heather Mills and TV actor and animal cruelty activist Peter Egan shared their inspiring stories about campaigning for animal welfare.
In June, along with Winchester’s Institute for Value Studies, we were proud to co-host North Americans Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka – authors of the ground-breaking Zoopolis: a Political Theory of Animal Rights. Guests and others speakers from across the UK attended. The seminar was a great success!
In September we commenced our new BA (Hons) Animal Welfare & Society, and our MSc Animal Welfare Science, Ethics and Law, which have progressed extremely well. I’m convinced we now have some of the most exciting courses currently available in these fields.
In September I also chaired a key London Symposium Raising Standards at the Time of Slaughter: Analysing the Potential Impact of ‘Brexit’ upon Animal Welfare, organised by the Public Policy Exchange. It felt extremely topical given the huge potential implications of Brexit for animal welfare.
In October we signed a formal partnership with the International Fund for Animal Welfare, a world-leading animal advocacy NGO. This adds to the partnership agreement we signed last year with Compassion in World Farming (CIWF). We feel delighted to be working with them both.
In November we hosted our Animal welfare and Religion symposium. Six leading speakers variously represented the animal welfare movement, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and other Eastern religions, and Paganism. It felt extremely gratifying to see the common threads of concern for animals, compassion, and commitment to animal welfare, running through all of them. Access their videos from the Symposium here. It seems the religions have more in common than often appreciated.
This was a major and well-attended symposium, at which Winchester also became the first university to sign the CreatureKind Commitment. Developed by our Visiting Professor David Clough from the University of Chester, the agreement commits signatories to recognise the impacts of intensive farming on humans, animals and the environment, and to undertake a programme of reducing consumption of animal products, sourcing remaining products from higher welfare sources, setting goals for improved practice, and regularly reviewing them.
As stated by our Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Elizabeth Stuart, who signed the commitment on behalf of the University, ‘The University of Winchester is a Church foundation, values-driven institution, committed to high standards of environmental sustainability, Fairtrade practices and animal welfare. Signing the CreatureKind Commitment connects our values with our practice. With Compassion being at the heart of our institution, we seek to improve the lives of animals used in the production of meat, dairy and eggs, and reduce the demand for animal products from factory farms.’
CAW members also gave several high profile presentations during 2015. Highlights included presentations by:
• our Visiting Professor Philip Lymbery, Chief Executive of CIWF, on ‘The role of livestock in sustainable agriculture’, at the Committee on World Food Security Annual Plenary, The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, in October
• our PhD students Madelaine Leitsberger and Christine Nellist at several international conferences, on their work focusing on animal ethics and animal theology
• myself, examining how systematic reviews of animal experiments demonstrate poor contributions to human healthcare, at the Science Instead of Animal Experiments Congress in Cologne in October, and the EU Scientific Conference: Non-Animal Approaches, in Brussels in November – jointly, to around 600 attendees
• my inaugural professional lecture ‘Was Jack the Ripper a slaughterman? Unexpected journeys in animal welfare’, in December – again to a scarily large audience. Any who have had to deliver such a lecture themselves will understand the extent of my relief that this event went well!
Additionally, our work was presented at conferences as remote as Peru and the US, in one case successfully by Skype.
We also had a series of key publications in the field of animal welfare and ethics, representing some of the amazing diversity to be found within this field, including:
• on the intelligence of orcas, and the adverse impacts they experience when confined within oceanaria and used for performances. We hope and expect this work will contribute to the international campaign to end the use of orcas for these purposes
• the most comprehensive study to date of the health and nutritional aspects of vegetarian vs. meat-based diets for companion animals
• the contributions (or lack, thereof) of invasive animal research in contributing to the treatment of the important childhood Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and several others. Our full list of recent publications is available here.
None of this would have been possible without all the partners in the animal welfare field we work with: our CAW members, partner organisations, and of course our many wonderful PhD, masters and undergraduate students! Thank you everybody! May you all have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Prof. Andrew Knight is Director of Winchester's Centre for Animal Welfare