Vegan Runners UK has many talented and energetic members. It is such a great organisation to represent and to be a participant. Whether it be repping, establishing or supporting an animal sanctuary, orchestrating animal rescue, fund raising, protests & marches, marketing vegan foods, running vegan cafes, winning events, producing a vegan documentary, setting national records, winning prestigious medals, debating on TV, making presentations to schools, producing a Youtube channel or many other forms of advocacy –you are all just amazing!
Below is someone on a mission that influences the transformation towards plant-based diets from a different direction with the prospect of making an enormous impact.
Shortly after the March newsletter was issued this member responded: “it was great to see the article on vegan dogs! I’m actually the researcher behind some of the key studies cited/described…”
That second point is a significant understatement, the respondent has made animal advocacy his career as well as shaping his personal life. This Vegan Runner is a Professor of Animal Welfare & Ethics. This club member is Founding Director of the University of Winchester Centre for Animal Welfare. Professor Andrew Knight has a long list of credentials, awards, publications, and media appearances. To list them here would take several paragraphs, so here’s an excellent summary – links to various media are provided at the end of this article.
Andrew grew up in Perth, Western Australia and became a vegetarian aged 8 (after his parents gave him a book about baby animals) and became a vegan at 23. Whilst working with charities and initiatives focused on human welfare, he observed that the extent of animal suffering in the human food industry was in orders of magnitude higher than human suffering. Australia’s live sheep exports was an initial motivator. So, his compassion and energy became reorientated. He became a vet with the purpose of improving animal welfare and was a practicing vet for nearly 10 years before moving to academia.
Professor Knight has recently been putting the final touches to the end of two years of latest research. This ground-breaking study on the Environment Impacts of Pet Food is now undergoing review for publication in a scientific journal later this year.
In this study Andrew has calculated that the population of kept dogs and cats globally equals ~ 10% of human population and the food energy savings resulting simply from feeding all kept dogs a nutritionally sound vegan diet, would be sufficient to feed hundreds of millions of people. Impacts on land use, water use and climate change would also be very significant. In the attainment of NetZero, vegan pet food is a necessity and it’s also a very near-term practicality. In one of Andrew’s interviews a fascinating discussion contemplates pet owners being swayed to plant-based diets after observing the beneficial impacts on their own pets.
Andrew having fun leading the 45:00 pacing pack during the Southampton 10 km race, 02 Apr. 2024
Somehow, he finds time to lace up and race. Sunday 2nd April was a big marathon day for many members. There was Brighton, Southampton, the Great Welsh as well as some half marathons including London Landmarks. Due to a 7-day-a-week effort to complete the research combined with the University workload Andrew’s training was severely constrained in the recent months – so the Southampton 10 km event was a sensible choice.
Andrew achieved a more than respectable ~44 minutes placing him 7th in his V50 category – out of 212 – a performance he justifiably attributed to his quality vegan diet.
Andrew has been a strong (if unconventional) runner for most of his life. In his 20s in Australia his two-person team won a 24-hour Australia Rogaine, covering ~ 100 km whilst navigating highly challenging terrain. His team stopped only once, for 10 minutes at dusk on the first day to don head torches and night gear. Even their meals were taken on the move. He’s been placed strongly in many other interesting events and enthusiastically shares amusing stories of his numerous misadventures with any audiences – if given half a chance.
The Extreme Vegan Sporting Association
Andrew led what might be the first all-vegan team ( which he liked to jokingly call the ‘Extreme Vegan Sporting Association’ ) to complete the Three Peaks Challenge in 2009 which is reported here. The following year the team successfully completed the Vegan 15 Peaks Challenge which is recorded here. This may also have been the first time all the 15 Welsh peaks above 3,000 feet were scaled within 24 hours by an all-vegan team (the second even comprised six men and two women). As well as being plant powered for both their training and the challenge they relied solely on all-vegan boots and gear. Carbon off-sets were purchased to help make both events as net neutral as practicable.
The Vegan Team ascending Crib-Goch
Due to some ‘navigational uncertainty’ one peak was scaled twice for good measure turning it into a ’16 peak’ event (possibly also the first time that has been done). The amusing stories and photos from these events are well worth perusal.
Sponsorship from both challenges raised funds for several animal charities.
Vegan Society Podcast
Around the date our March newsletter was published the Vegan society issued a podcast discussing companion animals and their diets. Andrew was one of the two experts contributing to this podcast. Anyone still doubtful about vegan dog food might want to listen to this one.
Andrew covers all the points mentioned in the last newsletter and many more. There are three key considerations for the pet food being 1) Nutritional soundness; 2) palatability and 3) digestibility. All three factors are addressed in the range of leading vegan pet foods.
It’s not logically valid to reject vegan cat or dog food on the basis that it is artificial. Many pet owners fail to realise that meat-based cat and dog food is also nutritionally supplemented with additives. As an example, take Taurine. It’s an essential ingredient for cats – it’s naturally occurring in meat but is degraded by the processing (temperature), so Taurine must be added to meat-based food synthetically to compensate. So both vegan and meat-based cat food includes synthetic taurine.
On this YouTube channel Andrew explains his motivations and aspirations. One message he relays in the introduction is that as activists and advocates we need to pace ourselves, to sustain energy and avoid burn-out and be in it for the long game. We should also aspire ethically to be the best person we can be.
This thought-provoking podcast encompasses a philosophical journey, an examination of the world from an altruist’s compassionate perspective. From a vegan activists’ perspective, it advises that we strategically evaluate our choices for making an impact and align these with our skillset and opportunities.
We learn in the podcast that meat-based dog food cannot be justified on the basis that it’s partly comprised of ‘animal by-products’. The demand for such ‘by-products’ is high and thus it’s a driver for animal slaughter. Therefore, purchases of meat-based dog food are driving demand for animal rearing and their slaughter. Some meat-based producers boast of incorporating ‘human grade’ meat.
It’s an irony that care for a pet has consequences in cruelty to animals reared to feed them.
Furthermore, pet ownership growing is the developing world (associated with rising affluence). This makes pet food even more of an opportunity for vegan advocacy.
In this interview Andrew explains that surveys of petfood purchasers (both cat and dog) have shown that a substantial minority would realistically be willing to consider alternatives to meat-based pet foods, if their concerns were met. In order of priority, these are: –
- Pet health
- Nutritional Soundness
- Diet quality
- Diet palatability
- Environmental sustainability
In fact, large scale surveys indicate that over one third of pet owners would realistically consider switching to plant-based pet food if these top concerns were met. Amongst vegans, this rises to almost 80%. It’s important for purchasers to understand that animals require certain nutrients, not meat or any other particular dietary ingredients.
The podcast also discussed the research mentioned in the last newsletter (including the systematic review) and the long list of benefits arising from switching pets to plant based including the additional 18 month life span for dogs. More favourable studies are expected to be published this year but there is no doubt about the benefits (including reduced itchy skin complaints and healthier body weight).
The challenge today is not the lack of evidence but it’s the lack of awareness amongst pet owners. And here lies an opportunity for all club members to spread the word. When we take our vegan dogs to parkruns and engage in discussions with other dog owners – there is an opportunity. Refer them to https://sustainablepetfood.info/ (it’s an easy one to remember).
EAT YOUR OWN DOG FOOD? We hear of an amusing anecdote: a producer of vegan pet food in the USA (from ‘Wild Earth’) consumed his own product on TV to demonstrate that it was high quality and even fit for human consumption, in contrast to the meat-based on alternative.
Another argument against meat-based pet food is that it is NOT natural. It is likely to include body parts that a pet would not ordinarily consume, as well as preservatives and unnatural, potentially hazardous additives.
Andrew is justifiably hopeful that the over $9bn global vegan petfood industry is going to rapidly grow in the next few years with more vegan products appearing in supermarket shelves, as it has with meat alternatives in food for humans. It’s a hugely exciting space which he feels privileged to be influencing.
In 2017 Andrew stood for parliamentary election for the Animal Welfare Party against Theresa May to raise awareness – an experience which he enjoyed.
This is not the end of the story. We can expect to hear more on Andrew’s initiatives and hopefully his running performances in future publications.
In a few weeks or so we can expect a new study to be published in a scientific journal evidencing that cats fed vegan diets (these should always be nutritionally-sound) are healthier than conventional fed cats.
Back to Running
Someday Andrew would like to run the Welsh 15 peaks and return to more extreme adventures.
Currently his workload gets in the way, but he does need to train for one event. A few years back, advancing age caused him to set a goal of running a half-marathon on each birthday. The first two years went ok but insufficient training last year resulted in significant and prolonged discomfort. He has not trained this year either and his birthday is at the end of May, so training needs to start very soon…
Links and References : –
Andrew’s Linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/in/andrew-knight-409b7434/
Vegan Society Podcast https://www.podbean.com/ew/pb-8mf9y-13c8ed3
Open-access (free) PDF Book – Routledge Handbook of Animal Welfare – (Andrew is Lead Editor) covers virtually all animal welfare issues and animal law in all major world regions, in thirty-six chapters written by 50 expert authors. https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/oa-edit/10.4324/9781003182351/routledge-handbook-animal-welfare-andrew-knight-clive-phillips-paula-sparks
Presentation on Dog (&Cat) Food – Darwin College Cambridge Lecture. https://www.andrewknight.info/presentations/pet-food/
A collection of evidence concerning vegan pet food. https://sustainablepetfood.info/