Johns Hopkins Global Food Ethics and Policy Program

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The Johns Hopkins Global Food Ethics and Policy Program, a collaboration of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics and the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International studies, addresses critical global issues of under- and over-nutrition and diet-related diseases, poverty, inequity and injustice across the food system, and environmental degradation caused by agriculture. The Program serves as a focal point for deepening Johns Hopkins collaborations and partnerships, convening experts and leaders to shape policy, as well as connecting scholars and scientists to the societal players that are shaping the global food system.

Program Team:

Jessica Fanzo, PhD, Director, Global Food Ethics and Policy Program, Bloomberg Distinguished Associate Professor, Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics & SAIS
RuthFadenSqRuth Faden, PhD, MPH, Philip Franklin Wagley Professor, Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics
SaraGlass_CROPSara Glass, RD, Project Manager, Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics
Alan Goldberg, PhD, Professor of Toxicology; Founding Director (Emeritus), Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
saghaiYashar Saghai, MA, PhD, Research Scholar and Associate Faculty, Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics

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By 2050, the global population is expected to reach 9.6 billion people, increasing the demand for food and creating unprecedented stresses on the environment, natural resources, and ecosystems that humans are intricately dependent upon. Underlying this challenge is the unanswered question of how to nourish 9.6 billion people in ways congruent with positive social, health, environmental and economic outcomes. Eight-hundred-million undernourished people are chronically or acutely hungry and another 2.1 billion are overweight or obese. At the same time, the global food system challenges the diversity of ecosystems essential to our lives. Food production is the major emitter of greenhouse gases to our atmosphere, as well as the largest user of water resources. With rapid urbanization, population pressures, geopolitical conflicts and fragile, global democracy, and less predictable climate variability and extreme weather events, the stakes are too high to ignore. We need a more equitable, ethical and sustainable global food system.

JHU’s Global Food Ethics and Policy Program

The Global Food Ethics and Policy Program (GFEPP), of Johns Hopkins University will address critical global issues of under- and over-nutrition and diet-related diseases, poverty, inequity and injustice across the food system, and environmental degradation caused by agriculture. The Program will serve as a focal point for deepening Johns Hopkins collaborations and partnerships, convening experts and leaders to shape policy, and connecting scholars and scientists to the societal players that are shaping the global food system.

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The activities of this program encompass three areas of work:

  • Research
    Generate and disseminate new scientific evidence and new ethics scholarship with political and societal relevance regarding food systems and challenges that the food system faces (climate and environment, social equity and justice, population growth, rapid urbanization and transformation etc.).
  • Education
    Build the capacity of the next generation of educators, policymakers, and development practitioners who can provide leadership related to sustainable food systems and ethics. Training and skillsets will need to be upgraded to adapt to global trends and drivers across ever-increasing, interconnected food systems.
  • Policy and Development
    Provide guidance and foresight on ethical, political, social, health and nutrition issues connected to food systems that would allow innovative and sustainable solutions for more equitable food security.



Thematic Focus Areas:

The activities undertaken in the Program seek to generate solutions that address food system challenges while shedding light on how to feed the world well and ethically. The Program will focus its research, education, and policy work across four thematic areas:

  • Agriculture and Food Systems
    Agriculture faces many challenges, making it more and more difficult to achieve its primary objective – feeding the world – each year. Population growth and changes in diet associated with rising incomes drive greater demand for food and other agricultural products, while global food systems are increasingly threatened by land degradation, climate change, and other stressors. Uncertainties exist about regional and local impacts of climate change, but the overall global pattern suggests that the stability of the food system will be at significant risk due to short-term variability in food supply. The Program will perform research to inform policy action on context-specific, ethically defensible solutions that transcend small- to large-scale farming in the rural context and the convergence of rural to urban center food systems.

Related Projects:


  • Environment and Climate
    A related question is how increased food production and meeting the increased demand for diverse diets will affect the environment, including the impact on greenhouse gas emissions, water resources, biodiversity conservation and the planetary ecosystem more broadly. The global food system is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, contributing 34% of the total. Ways to decrease emissions from deforestation, agricultural practices, and the processing, transport, and use (including avoidance of loss and waste) of food are among the most important challenges we face. The Program will work with regional and national partners and other stakeholders around the ethical significance of these challenges, and establish new, innovative, ethically-sensitive metrics and models to understand how changes in supply and demand impact environment and ecosystem indicators.

Related Projects:


  • Nutrition and Health
    The double burden of obesity and chronic undernutrition, which arises from urbanization, demographic shifts, and changing dietary and lifestyle patterns, affects as many as two billion people around the globe. Increasing rates of obesity in both the developed and developing world require an emergency response to the rise of non-communicable diseases. These increasing rates also place particular demands on food and public health systems.  Well-crafted responses from local farmers, international health workers, the global food industry, and governments are badly needed, but some possible responses raise challenging ethical issues. Many countries still face a significant burden of chronic undernutrition of young children, adolescent girls, and women, which require social justice action. The Program will focus on food-based solutions, as well as global research and policy that embeds nutrition within a wider development framework focused on equity.

Related Projects:


  • Ethics, Social Justice and Democracy
    The debate about feeding the world well and sustainably is deeply rooted in ethics. At its core, this debate engages a range of compelling ethical values that need to be constantly critically evaluated, explicated, and specified in various contexts—such as, promoting individual and public health, protecting the environment, ensuring economic well-being, minimizing animal suffering, providing fair access to farmland, respecting individual freedoms and cultural traditions, fostering collective control over food and agricultural policy, engaging an active citizenry and food social movements. These ethical values frequently come into conflict in the formulation of potential solutions. At the same time, the burdens of undernutrition and overweight and obesity, and of climate change and environmental degradation, fall disproportionately on the world’s most disadvantaged people and groups, including poor women and children and the rural poor. Such complex issues underscore the need to pay careful, scholarly attention to the ethics of the current state of the global food system and of proposals to improve it, as well as the need to articulate the broader ethical landscape, which draws upon ethical theory, political and social philosophy, justice theory, and philosophy of science.

Related Projects:


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A Collaborative Approach:

The Program’s unique niche is its trans-disciplinary approach. The Program’s position at the hub of the science, ethics, policy, and practitioner communities is also exceptional. Practitioners must deliver on-the-ground solutions to ensure that policymakers, farmers and communities benefit from the best science and technology. Moving toward the ultimate goal of building sustainable food systems, the Program will engage with the agriculture, ecology, health, nutrition communities, civil society, social movements, and industry to capitalize on inter-sectoral synergies and minimize trade-offs. By working across disciplines and sectors, the Program will identify and investigate research questions at the frontier of the complex, and often ethical, issues underlying food system sustainability.


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Current Activities:

  • Ethics, Politics, Knowledge and Our Planet’s Food Futures

Studies of the futures of food answer questions such as, “do we need to increase global agricultural production to feed the world sustainably in 2050?”  Conclusions vary dramatically; for instance, while some maintain we do not need to increase production at all, others claim we need to increase it by 30-100%.  The lack of a sufficiently reliable, fine-grained, and transparent anticipation of possible futures undermines responsible and informed collective choices vital for humanity, the wellbeing of nonhuman animals, and our impact on ecosystems and Earth systems.“Our Planet’s Food Futures: Knowledge, Ethics, Politics” takes on these issues and examines “foresight” studies that apply scientific rigor, artful skill, and practical imagination to anticipate or forecast possible futures of food systems that are relevant to present-day choices. These studies inform governments’ and international organizations’ long-term food and agricultural policies, the design of market rules, private investment in agricultural R&D and large-scale land acquisitions, and food activists’ challenges to the global food system, to name a few.

The project pursues three aims:

  • Identify knowledge-related, ethical, and political issues in studies and institutional practices designed to anticipate or forecast the futures of food systems. Problems include: underestimated methodological limitations; reliance on datasets of poor quality or reliability; implicit or explicit reliance on objectionable ethical assumptions about what is desirable or undesirable; conflicts of interest; political biases
  • Make concrete recommendations to address identified issues
  • Facilitate implementation of recommendations by foresight studies producers, commissioners, and end-users; and foster transparent and informed public deliberation on our planet’s possible food futures.

To achieve these aims, our interdisciplinary team will rely on a two-pillared approach. On the scholarly side, we will investigate these issues using rigorous social scientific research methods, as well as tools and approaches borrowed from practical ethics and philosophy of science. Equally important to the success of this project is intensive engagement with relevant actors. At each key step of the project, we envision an iterative process of broad and in-depth consultation with producers, commissioners, and current/potential end-users of these studies, for instance, the FAO, IFPRI, academic research centers, think tanks, agribusiness, NGOs, food activists, and farmers’ organizations. This project was inspired by the 7 by 5 Agenda: Ethical Challenges in Projections of Global Food Demand, Supply, and Prices.

Yashar Saghai, MA, PhD, Principal Investigator, Hecht-Levi Post-Doctoral Fellow, Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics
Duration: 2016 – 2019

  • Planetary Boundaries of Global Animal Food Production and Consumption: Decision-Making Tools for Social Change in Diverse Food Systems

This project tackles health, environmental, economic and ethical challenges in the predictable worldwide increase in the production and consumption of animal-source foods, with a focus on large-scale case studies in specific countries (Brazil, Ethiopia, India and the United States). Using a combination of research methods, including modeling, empirical research, practical ethics and political economy analysis, this project aims to provide a framework for solving one of the greatest health and environmental challenges of this century. This project is in an advanced stage of planning and is organized by the Berman Institute in collaboration with the Bloomberg School of Public Health, the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, and on-site partner institutions. It expands on a project idea featured in the 7 by 5 Agenda: Ethics of Meat Consumption in High-, Middle- and Low-Income Countries.

Jessica Fanzo, PhD, Co-Principal Investigator, Director, Global Food Ethics and Policy Program, Bloomberg Distinguished Associate Professor, Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics & SAIS

Laura Caulfield, PhD, Co-Principal Investigator, Professor, Program in Human Nutrition, Center for Human Nutrition and Department of International Health, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University

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  • Climate-Smart and Climate-Just Agriculture

Current agricultural practices contribute significantly to climate change, and climate change poses a severe threat to global food security. In response, strategies that can mitigate and adapt to unavoidable climate change are put forward under the label “climate-smart agriculture” (CSA). These strategies include technologies and practices intended to increase productivity, reduce environmental impact, increase efficiency in scarce resources, and improve food system resilience. We examine situations in which farmers do not sufficiently benefit from CSA because these strategies are insufficiently informed by farmers’ views on the problems they face and are lacking context-sensitive solutions. The goal of this project is to recommend improvements for farmer engagement in shaping climate-smart agriculture, as part of a climate-just approach. This project is currently under development. It is being designed in collaboration with colleagues from Pennsylvania State University and will include, in addition to ethical analysis, empirical research on particularly vulnerable farmers in Southern Africa. This project was inspired by the 7 by 5 Agenda: Climate-Smart and Climate-Just Agriculture.

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Our research aims to examine the short- and long-term impacts of conflict on protracted hunger, nutrition, and food rights and justice issues. Our research will also examine the ethical challenges to food and nutrition security in the context of social discrimination and inequity. Most of the work we do in this area focuses in low- and middle-income countries (e.g., semi-arid lands in northern Kenya).

Jessica Fanzo, PhD, Principal Investigator, Director, Global Food Ethics and Policy Program, Bloomberg Distinguished Associate Professor, Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics & SAIS
Duration: 2016 – 2018

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Our research aims to better understand how agriculture strategies, interventions, and investments can be “tweaked” to also include improvements in dietary and nutrition outcomes of populations living in rural areas. By using large-scale development investments in the agriculture sector, our work tethers itself onto what is already being implemented and scaled in countries looking to grow their agriculture sector, and through operations research, testing what works to improve nutrition and diets, while ensuring livelihoods are not undermined. Initial work focuses on Sub-Saharan Africa.

Jessica Fanzo, PhD, Principal Investigator, Director, Global Food Ethics and Policy Program, Bloomberg Distinguished Associate Professor, Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics & SAIS

Shauna Downs, Post-Doctoral Fellow, The Earth Institute, Columbia University

In partnership with George Washington University
Duration: 2013 – 2018

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Our research aims to understand the determinants, factors, and processes that comprise a sustainable diet in an era of economic growth, rising incomes, climate change, and dietary transitions. We also want to investigate how diets incorporate aspects of access and affordability of foods, environmental sustainability, and cultural acceptability. Lastly, our research is elucidating what composes a sustainable diet, how the level of sustainability is measured, and the impacts and tradeoffs involved in promoting sustainable diets at both the individual and population levels. A pilot study is focusing on Nepal.

Jessica Fanzo, PhD, Principal Investigator, Director, Global Food Ethics and Policy Program, Bloomberg Distinguished Associate Professor, Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics & SAIS
Duration: 2014 – 2016

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  • Consumers, Certifications and Labels: Ethically Benchmarking Food Systems

This project will develop an ethical food rating system that aggregates information provided by existing, reliable certification and labeling programs, as well as new certification processes for values not accounted for by existing certification or labeling programs.

The project has six specific objectives:

  1. Vet which ethical considerations in the food value chain can (at least partially) be addressed through a comprehensive labeling program, with possibilities including food safety, sustainable farming practices, labor standards, public health, water resources and utilization, and animal welfare. This will be shared through publication and an open symposium, to be held at the end of 2018. The ethical considerations will be subjected to careful evaluation for their suitability for benchmarking. The template developed will be determined by the potential for consensus on ethical standards, feasible operational measures, and public acceptability and industrial participation, among other factors.
  2. Develop ethical standards for assessing existing certification programs and creating new ones, as needed. These standards should be tailor-made for each component of the food system (e.g., production, processing) and adaptable to different types of food production and market networks.
  3. Extensively map current certification and labeling programs, and assess them against these ethical standards to benchmark best practices and identify areas in need of improvement.
  4. Develop a comprehensive, accurate, and user-friendly labeling system (with an eye toward a mobile app).
  5. Encourage relevant food value chain actors to endorse this benchmarked labeling system.
  6. Educate the consumer on the labeling system and availability of the mobile app.

This comprehensive system will allow consumers to easily and accurately incorporate ethically-based knowledge into their food choices, and at the same time will allow producers to understand how to incorporate these ethical standards into their products.

Alan Goldberg, PhD, Principal Investigator, Professor of Toxicology; Founding Director (Emeritus), Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, along with the Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, launched the three-year Global Food Ethics Project to take on the challenge of working through conflicting visions of what it means to feed the world ethically and find a concrete path forward even in the absence of consensus about ethical commitments and values. The main product of the  Global Food Ethics Project is the 7 by 5 Agenda for Ethics and Global Food Security (May 2015). This report is the result of an unprecedented undertaking: gathering a diverse, international, and influential Working Group of experts to build a research and policy agenda for global food ethics that would make a significant, practical contribution to global food security. We put forward seven important and tractable projects to make progress on ethics and global food security in five years. Four of our projects underway emerged from the “7 by 5 Agenda” and we are now working on expanding our research program beyond the “7 by 5” (see Thematic Areas).The 7 by 5 project ideas:

  • Ethical Challenges in Projections of Global Food Demand, Supply, and Prices (see Current Projects)
  • The Food Sovereignty Movement and the Exceptionality of Food and Agriculture
  • The Case for the Professionalization of Farming
  • Global Agricultural Research and Development: Ethics, Priorities, and Funders
  • Climate-Smart and Climate-Just Agriculture (see Current Projects)
  • Ethics of Meat Consumption in High-Income and Middle-Income Countries (see Current Projects)
  • Consumers, Certifications, and Labels: Ethically Benchmarking Food Systems (see Current Projects)

Ruth Faden, PhD, MPH, Co-Principal Investigator, Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics

Alan Goldberg, PhD, Co-Principal Investigator, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Robert Thompson, PhD, Co-Principal Investigator, Johns Hopkins SAIS

Yashar Saghai, MA, PhD, Project Director, Hecht-Levi Post-Doctoral Fellow, Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics
Duration: 2013-2015

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Global Food Ethics and Policy Program Publications

News Roundups

Sign up for our weekly News Roundups. These include project updates, blog posts and a selection of recent program-related articles. The articles are not intended to reflect the views of the Global Food Ethics And Policy Program team but are meant to inform the reader of media attention regarding the subject. Visit our News Roundup Archive to take a look at past mailings and Join our mailing list to receive News Roundups in your inbox.

Books, Publications and Peer-reviewed Articles

Kraemer, K., Cordaro, J.B., Fanzo, J., et al. (2016) “Good nutrition: perspectives for the 21st century.” Karger, Basel.

Downs, S. (2016) “The multiple burdens of malnutrition.” Sight and Life. 30(1): 41-46.

Fanzo, J. (2016) “Non-communicable diseases, food systems and the sustainable development goals.” Sight and Life. 30(1): 34-40.

Lipton, Michael, and Y. Saghai. (2016) “Farmland-access ethics, land reform, and food ethics.” Global Food Security. Published Online First (May 4, 2016).

Goldberg, A. (In press) Farm Animal Welfare and Human Health. Current Environmental Health Reports.

Thow, A. M., Fanzo, J., and Negin, J. (2016) A Systematic Review of the Effect of Remittances on Diet and Nutrition. Food and Nutrition Bulletin 0379572116631651.

Gustafson, D., Gutman, A., Leet, W., Drewnowski, A., Fanzo, J., and Ingram, J. (2016) Seven Food System Metrics of Sustainable Nutrition Security. Sustainability 8 (3): 196.

Wilkinson, J. (2015) Food Security and the Global Agrifood System: Ethical Issues in Historical and Sociological Perspective. Global Food Security 7: 9-14.

Fanzo, Jessica. (2015) Ethical Issues for Human Nutrition in the Context of Global Food Security and Sustainable Development. Global Food Security 7: 15-23.

Lachat, C, Nago, E, Vermeylen, H, Fanzo, J, Mahy, L, and Kolsteren, P (2015) A landscape analysis on nutrition-sensitive agriculture policy development in Senegal. Food and Nutrition Bulletin. Jun;36(2):154-66.

Fanzo, J, Marshall Q, Dobermann, D, Wong, J, Merchan, RI, Jaber, MI, Souza, A, Verjee, N and Davis, K (2015) Integration of Nutrition Into Extension and Advisory Services: A Synthesis of Experiences, Lessons, and Recommendations. Food and Nutrition Bulletin. Jun;36(2):120-37.

Luckett, B, DeClerck, F, Fanzo, J, Mundorf, A, and Rose, D (2015) Nutritional Functional Diversity: An Indicator to Link Sustainable Agriculture to Healthy Diets. Public Health Nutrition. Sep;18(13):2479-87.

Haddad, L, Achadi, E, Bendech, MA, Ahuja, A, Bhatia, K, Bhutta, Z, Blossner, M, Borghi, E, Colecraft, E, de Onis, M, Eriksen, K, Fanzo, J, Flores-Ayala, R, Fracassi, P, Kimani-Murage, E, Koukoubou, EN, Krasevec, J, Newby, H, Nugent, R, Oenema, S, Martin-Prevel, Y, Randel, J, Requejo, J, Shyam, T, Udomkesmalee, E, and Reddy, KS (2015) The Global Nutrition Report 2014: Actions and Accountability to Accelerate the World’s Progress on Nutrition. J. Nutr. Apr;145(4):663-71.

Barnhill, A, King, K., Kass, N., and Faden, F. (2014) The Value of Unhealthy Eating and the Ethics of Healthy Eating Policies. Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 24 (3): 187-217.

Kass, N., Hecht, K., Paul. A., and Birnbach, K. (2014) Ethics and Obesity Prevention: Ethical Considerations in 3 Approaches to Reducing Consumption of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages. American Journal of Public Health 104 (5): 787-795.

Fanzo, J. (2014) Strengthening the engagement of food and health systems to improve nutrition security: Innovative and equitable solutions to address malnutrition. Global Food Security 3: 183-192.

Wu, Guoyao, Fanzo, J., Miller, D, Pingali, P, Post, M, Steiner, JL, Thalacker-Mercer, AE (2014)Production and supply of high-quality food protein for human consumption: sustainability, challenges and innovations. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1321 (2014) 1–19.

Reinhardt, K., and Fanzo, J. (2014). Addressing chronic malnutrition through multi-sectoral, sustainable approaches: a review of the causes and consequences. Frontiers in Nutrition, 1, 13.

Johnston, J., Fanzo, J., & Cogill, B. (2014). Understanding Sustainable diets: Past, present and future efforts to advance sustainable diets. In: Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism 63: 1063-1063.

Remans, R., Flynn, D., Fanzo, J., Declerck, F., Lambrecht, I., Sullivan, C., Gaynor, K., Siriri, D., Mudiope, J., Mutuo, P., Nkhoma P., and Palm C. (2011) Assessing Nutritional Diversity of Cropping Systems in African Villages. PLoS ONE 6(6):e21235. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0021235

Fanzo, J. and Pronyk, P. (2011) Road map to 2015: Reviewing global progress towards the Millennium Development Goal One Hunger Target. UN FNB 32(2): 144-158.

DeClerk, F., Fanzo, JC, Remans, R. and Palm, C.A., and Deckelbaum, R. (2011) Ecological Approaches to Human Nutrition. UN FNB 32(1): 41S-50S.

Blog Posts and Web Contributions

Farm animal welfare and its relationship to human health (2015)

Food for Thought: Communicating Agricultural Science (2015)

To Till or Not To Till (2015)

The Ethics of Eating (2015)

Coke’s Unconscionable New Ad (2013)

Dan Callahan Thinsplains Obesity (2013)

Media Coverage

ILSI Research Foundation: Climate Change, Nutrition & Health: Building Collaborative Structures – ILSI Research Foundation Co-Hosts Roundtable Discussion on Agriculture and Nutrition with University of Washington and Johns Hopkins University Seven projects to make progress on ethics and global food security in five years

Council on Foreign Relations: Must Reads of the Week

Climate Wire: Global project aims to address ‘uncomfortable’ questions about sustainable agriculture

Meridian Institute (AGree NewsFeed): FOOD SECURITY: Global Project Aims to Address ‘Uncomfortable’ Questions about Sustainable Agriculture What projects can end food insecurity by 2020?

WYPR: How To Eat In An Ethical Way

Academic Courses

Global Food Ethics (700.630.01)

Rural Development: Issues for 21st Century Livelihoods (SA.400.777.01)


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