by Robert Fraser
Andrew Knight is a veterinary student who has almost single-handedly
made history with his stand on animal rights. A vegetarian since 1978,
he became a vegan in 1993. At the age of eight he decided that he didn’t
want to be party to killing animals for food, and he later decided to
dedicate himself first to human rights and then to animal rights.
Vegetarianism and a approach of “daring to be different” run
in the family. His grandfather came to his own conclusions on vegetarianism
at the age of 13 simply through reading for himself. In the 1920s, vegetarians
were certainly not plentiful and were looked at somewhat askance, but
he studied such materials as were available and concluded that the only
logical dietary system was the vegetarian one. And he stuck to it. A
keen jogger, in 1999 he was still jogging every morning along the beach
at the age of 88, although at considerably reduced speeds.
Of all the vegetarian and vegan organisations and Internet sites (and
there are many of them) Andrew describes Vegan Outreach as his favourite.
He is full of admiration for the work they do, and the principles and
philosophies they advocate. Their website, at: www.veganoutreach.orgdescribes
their approach, via the bulk distribution of their excellent booklet
‘Why Vegan?’ and assisting individuals worldwide to set up
information stalls on veganism. Essentially, their motivation is to
bring about animal liberation - the day when our society no longer exploits
animals. But first, he believes, we must change deeply ingrained patterns
of behaviour. Given the increasing animal exploitation in so many countries,
he seeks to step back and question the general assumptions about animal
activism. He sees the non-confrontational spreading of veganism as the
key to animal liberation, since veganism is the individual enactment
of animal liberation, whereby animals are neither viewed nor treated
as objects or tools. Animal liberation, Andrew believes, is possible
only if there is a fundamental change in the way animals are viewed
and treated by our society. The key to this is the basic issue that
connects the majority of people to the vast majority of animals exploited
(over 95%) - the use of animals for food.
In the early 1990s Andrew became involved in the human rights movement,
doing voluntary work with groups such as Amnesty International and Community
Aid Abroad. Some of his first experience at activism was gained by helping
out with CAA’s contribution to the international campaign to ban
land-mines. He wrote leaflets and lobbied politicians on this important
issue. Inspired by a stint of volunteering on the nightly soup patrol
of Perth’s Red Cross, Andrew next decided he wanted to set up a
soup kitchen in “some third world slum hole”. Says Andrew,
“I only became an animal rights activist when I realised that the
number of animals suffering horribly around the world was many thousands
of times greater than the number of people similarly suffering, despite
the lack of any significant difference in their respective abilities
During the early 1990s Andrew worked in the middle of the night as a
newspaper deliverer. While listening to the BBC World Service radio
news in an attempt to stay awake, he developed an interest in global
trends. His pondering during the small hours led him to believe that
the root of all the problems facing our planet was the spiritual paucity
of humankind. Says Andrew, “We have too much selfishness and not
enough compassion. We put ourselves ahead of the rest of the planet
and fail to appreciate how much we diminish ourselves by doing so”.
This led him to wonder how he might best help to awaken the compassion
of humankind as an individual.
“The environmental, human rights, and animal rights movements are
all part of a greater shift in consciousness towards caring for the
world around us. It is my hope that once people start to care about
any one issue, their compassion will awaken to encompass the others
too.” He believes that the single most important step individuals
can take is to become vegan.
Andrew decided that the most effective way he could convince people
to become vegan for reasons of compassion, rather than simply for the
health and fitness advantages, was as a qualified vet able to talk with
credibility about the terrible conditions endured, in particular, by
intensively-farmed animals. When he graduates he plans to take on intensive
farming, battery hens being his first priority.
Andrew has described himself, not as a vet student who became an activist,
but as an activist who became a vet student. He sought to augment his
credibility as a campaigner on animal rights issues, and becoming a
veterinarian seemed a promising option. He cared about animal rights,
and the thought of healing animals all day long seemed like a dream
come true. And so he went back to school, studied hard, and qualified
for the vet course at Murdoch University. Finding that he’d be
required to dissect *****roaches, snails, worms, fish, rats, and body
parts from abattoirs, he tried not to think too much about where all
these bodies had come from. But he was finally brought up hard against
reality by a class where rats were killed on the spot by demonstrators.
At this point, Andrew was forced to deal with the ethical issues involved
and sent out urgent requests for help to animal rights groups around
the world. He found that he was not alone, learning that the number
of humane alternatives available worldwide had grown in the last decade,
with a similar rise in the number of courses in which they are offered.
“It was undeniably clear to me that there was no need to kill to
learn how to heal”, he observed. His second year classes made those
in first year look tame. Students and demonstrators killed sheep, guinea
pigs, rats, toads and other animals in order to demonstrate scientific
principles that had been established for decades. He refused to participate
in several of these physiology sessions; a tactic that cost him marks.
He put his case to University authorities but they refused to give any
Finally, Andrew took action through the state Equal Opportunity Commission,
claiming that he had been discriminated against in his education on
the grounds of his beliefs. Negotiations commenced, but the university
decided to give his marks back fairly early in the process, thus denying
him a more significant legal precedent and avoiding further adverse
In due course, the University accepted that some students might have
a conscientious belief which would conflict with teaching and/or assessment
practices. They undertook to endeavour to make reasonable accommodations
to meet such beliefs, thereby formally opened the doors to conscientious
objection by students who object to harming or killing animals in their
course work. To Andrew’s knowledge, Murdoch is the first Australian
university to formally allow conscientious objection by students.
Andrew is now assisting others to conscientiously object to harmful
animal usage in their coursework in several universities within Australia
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