Dr. Amir Khan puts Food and Health under the Microscope

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Amir at the Lectern of the Sheldonian, delivering his lecture | Credit: Compassion in World Farming

Last Saturday (15th March), it was a great honour to welcome Dr Amir Khan to the stage of the magnificent Sheldonian Theatre to deliver our 2024 Peter Roberts Memorial Lecture, hosted by the Oxford Literary Festival.

It proved to be an outstanding event for those able to be present in the wonderful, Christopher Wren-designed theatre, regarded as being an architectural jewel in the heart of Oxford.

As always, the lecture was in memorial to Compassion’s late founder, Peter Roberts MBE, a former dairy farmer who gave up farming to dedicate his life to ending factory farming.  

Peter was a visionary.  He could see how factory farming was not only cruel to animals but had profound consequences for our health and future survival. Ahead of his time, he was forecasting Farmageddon; the threat to a sustainable society as a result of the shift to factory farming – the industrial farming of animals.  He very clearly saw in the 1960s that moving to nature-friendly, animal-friendly, regenerative farming would be crucial to ending cruelty and restoring balance with nature.  He founded Compassion in World Farming in 1967 and ran it alongside a company, Direct Foods, dedicated to plant-based food innovation. Starting as just a backroom protest, Compassion has since grown into a powerful global movement. 

In Peter’s honour, Dr Amir Khan took to the stage. Amir is an NHS GP, writer and television personality who has a passion for animals, wildlife conservation and healthy, nature-friendly farming practices. His regular television appearances include being resident doctor on Good Morning Britain, appearances on GPs Behind Closed Doors, and fronting shows such as Channel 5’s Dr Amir’s Sugar Crash and You Are What You Eat. Outside medicine Amir is a Visionary of Compassion in World Farming, President of the RSPB, and Vice-President of The Wildlife Trusts.

Amir and Philip at Exeter College in Oxford | Credit: Compassion in World Farming

Amir started his speech with the simple explanation of why he was rather overdressed in a tuxedo and was upstaging me in a suit!  ‘It’s a bit weird isn’t it’ he said ‘I don’t normally hang out in a tuxedo but I am hosting a ball this evening for the Leeds Hospital charity so once I have finished, I need to hot foot it back up North to raise money for a new transplant unit for the hospital’.

Amir went on to discuss the perils of factory farming, in particular the relationship between food and health. A big part of his work is a specialism in Type 2 diabetes and nutrition and how certain types of food don’t just affect blood sugars and insulin levels but our health in general.

What isn’t looked at is this more macro view of things, and how we produce our food and whether we can do better for ourselves and for the animals.  I feel humans can be very selfish and don’t wish to change their behaviours, but factory farming and the mass production of meat is impacting us already’ Amir explained. ‘It’s not just the animal welfare, but the welfare of human health as consumers of this food, which is also not considered by those mass producing meat, dairy and eggs… human wellbeing is not as high on the agenda as sales and profit,’ he said.

Amir went on to describe how eating more plants and less meat is a route to a healthier diet.

Looking ahead a major worry for Amir is the over use of antibiotics in intensively reared meat production. ‘75% of the world’s antibiotics are used in factory farming.  That’s an incredible number’ he exclaimed. ‘It’s an incredible amount of medicine used to prevent animal illnesses in confined spaces, in some instances it’s also used to promote growth and to treat illnesses too.  But that quantity of antibiotic use, has already led to the emergence of superbugs.  It is estimated that 1.27 million people die globally through the emergence of superbugs and by 2050 the superbug epidemic is likely to be the leading cause of death.  Unless we do something about this use of antibiotics, we are facing Armageddon.  And that really bothers me as a Doctor because we are so strict and scrutinised when it comes to prescribing antibiotics yet the intensive animal farming industry continues behind closed doors.  A mutation will take place amongst these confined animals, it’s not an ‘if’, it will and it’s a case of ‘when’ and there is every likelihood it will be a zoonotic disease and transmitted to humans.  Factory farming is a really scary place when it comes to diseases,’  he said.

Amir sitting answering audience questions following his lecture | Credit: Compassion in World Farming

Dr Amir’s lecture continued to cover everything from the impact of factory farming on the environment to some of the new tools to help reduce meat consumption, like cultivated meat.  His speech closed to much warm applause.

I’d like to extend sincere thanks to Dr Amir Khan for delivering a wonderful lecture. Thanks too to Sally Dunsmore and her team at the Oxford Literary Festival for again so kindly hosting the event. 

Roll on March 2025 and our next Peter Roberts Memorial Lecture – our next special guest speaker to be announced soon!

Note: If you wish to view a recording of the event, please use this hyper-link

Main Image: Dr Amir Khan and Philip on the steps of the iconic Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford | Credit: Compassion in World Farming

More about Compassion in World Farming

If you would like to learn more about Compassion in World Farming, please read ‘Roaming Wild’ by Emma Silverthorn.  

It is a powerful book revealing the little-known story of Anna and Peter Roberts, the founders of this wonderful charity.  The book documents the major changes of post-war agricultural life and charts the triumphs and challenges of campaign life fighting on behalf of animals, farmers, and the environment. Part biography and part modern-day animal welfare history, it is illustrated with many evocative photographs, both personal and political.

The book is available from all leading book stores and online book outlets 

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