Global Food Ethics Project

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Building a Shared Conceptual Framework for Feeding the World’s Population Ethically

With the world’s population likely to exceed 9.5 billion by 2050, our global community faces an enormous challenge—how to ensure everyone will have enough of the right foods to secure a desirable level of health. Ensuring that every individual has affordable access to sufficient and nutritious food is a profoundly important and consensual moral imperative. However, there are deep, entrenched, disagreements about what valu­­es, besides human health, should be taken into account, and what systems and strategies for the production, distribution, and consumption of food are ethically acceptable.

One obstacle to securing affordable access to nutritious food is the absence of a minimum set of common ethical standards that accommodates and responds to the major constituencies and stakeholders engaged in producing, distributing and consuming food.  As a necessary first step toward constructing a critical consensus document, we propose to build a shared conceptual framework that identifies the distinctively moral disagreements that are impediments to feeding the world’s population. This conceptual framework is intended to serve as the foundation on which a common set of ethical standards can be constructed.

We will address the following questions:

  1. What human health interests must be considered and secured through efforts to feed the world’s population? 
  1. What topics other than human health need to be included in an ethical framework for feeding the world’s population, and what kinds of ethical issues and concerns do they raise?  Examples here include farmers, farm and food industry workers; food sovereignty; marketplace choices and economic interests; creation, control and use of technology; non-human animals; the environment; and cultural, aesthetic and religious values related to agriculture and food.
  2. To what extent are the core ethical issues and concerns described above in tension? What systems and strategies exacerbate or help reconcile these moral tensions?

We aim to achieve what has never been attempted—to have a diverse, international, and influential group of experts begin to build this type of framework.  A multi-day, interdisciplinary Working Group meeting will be held in October 2014, with participants selected for their international standing as well as their commitment to finding common ground on questions of ethics.

A statement resulting from the Working Group meeting will provide a conceptual framework of immense utility to academics and policy makers working on every dimension of food production, distribution, and consumption, all of whom face unarticulated ethical challenges, particularly as their work affects the interests of low and middle income countries as well as disadvantaged people throughout the world.  The conceptual framework will also set the stage for agreement on a common set of ethical standards for feeding the world’s growing population that concretely assists in the moral evaluation of global and national policies. Such an innovative statement would be transformative in food security debates. Without some common ground on the ethics of food systems and strategies, progress in food security will be much more difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.

We anticipate the project’s final report being released in 2015.


Project Team:

  • 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
  • Yashar Saghai, MA, PhD, Project Director, Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics
  • Robert Thompson, PhD, Co-Principal Investigator, The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (JHU SAIS)
  • Sara Glass, RD, Project Coordinator, Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics


Contact information: 


Project Advisors:

  • David Fraser, CM, PhD, Animal Welfare Program, University of British Columbia
  • Per Pinstrup-Andersen, PhD, Division of Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University
  • Madison Powers, JD, PhD, Kennedy Institute of Ethics, Georgetown University


Working Group Members:

  • Bina Agarwal, PhD, Development Economics and Environment, University of Manchester
  • Anne Barnhill, PhD, Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, University of Pennsylvania
  • Antônio Salazar P. Brandão, PhD, Department of Economic Analysis, State University of Rio de Janeiro
  • Sylvie M. Brouder, PhD, Professor of Agronomy, Purdue Agriculture
  • Ettore Capri, PhDm Institute of Agricultural Chemistry and Environment, Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Piacenza, Italy
  • Kenneth G. Cassman, PhD, Robert B. Daugherty Professor of Agronomy, Depart of Agronomy & Horticulture, University of Nebraska, Lincoln
  • Jonathan Crush, PhD, Balsillie School of International Affairs, Queen’s University, Canada; African Food Security Urban Network, Capetown
  • William Easterling, PhD, Department of Geography, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, Penn State University
  • Jessica Fanzo, PhD, Institute of Human Nutrition, Columbia University
  • Charles Godfray, CBE FRS, The Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, Department of Zoology
  • David Groenfeldt, PhD, Water-Culture Institute and Department of Anthropology, University of New Mexico
  • Michael Lipton, D.Litt., Poverty Research Unit, University of Sussex
  • Nora Lustig, PhD, Department of Economics, Tulane University
  • Clare Narrod, PhD, Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, University of Maryland
  • Pamela Ronald, PhD, Department of Plant Pathology and the Genome Center, University of California, Davis
  • Richard Visser, PhD, Plant Breeding, Wageningen UR
  • John Wilkinson, PhD, Graduate Center for Development, Agriculture and Society (CPDA), Federal Rural University, Rio de Janeiro
  • Ruqian Zhao, PhD, Veterinary Medicine, Nanjing Agricultural University 


News Roundups

A selection of recent articles that relate to global food security and our project’s mission. Using our identified objects of moral concern which are listed below, you can click on each subject area to see related articles.  The articles are not intended to reflect the views of the Global Food Ethics project team but are meant to inform the reader of media attention regarding the subject.

View News Roundup articles organized by objects of moral concern:

  1. Human health
  2. Farmers, farm workers, and food industry workers
  3. Non-human animals
  4. Environment 
  5. Lifestyles (Social, cultural, religious, and aesthetic values related to agriculture and food)
  6. Marketplace choice and economic interest
  7. Food sovereignty
  8. Creation, control and use of technology

or View All News Roundup articles

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A selection of recent reports and academic journal articles that relate to global food security and our project’s mission. These publications are meant to inform the reader of some of the recent literature available and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Food Ethics project team.

This project is funded by The Stavros Niarchos Foundation