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, and 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, Andreas C. Dracopoulos Director, 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, Hecht-Levi Postdoctoral Fellow, 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 now chronically or acutely hungry and another 2.1 billion are overweight or obese. At the same time, the global food system challenges the terrestrial ecosystem 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.

While many efforts are made across the world to tackle these intertwined challenges, the Johns Hopkins University is poised to contribute in a unique way. It provides an unusual blend of deep technical knowledge with leading ethics scholarship, practical know-how, substantive interdisciplinary work, dedicated students, access to the world’s leading policymakers, unique links with national governments, and strong partnerships with leading institutions in academia, the private sector and non-governmental organizations.

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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
    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.


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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Thematic 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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—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—that 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.


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The Global Ethics Project: The Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, along with the Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, launched the Global Food Ethics Initiative 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 first phase of the Global Food Ethics Initiative is the 7 by 5 Agenda for Ethics and Global Food Security. 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.

The 7 by 5 projects:

  • Ethical Challenges in Projections of Global Food Demand, Supply, and Prices
  • 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
  • Ethics of Meat Consumption in High-Income and Middle-Income Countries
  • Consumers, Certifications, and Labels: Ethically Benchmarking Food Systems

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As part of the Program two projects are underway that emerged from the “7 by 5” report:

  • Ethics of Meat Consumption in High-, Middle- and Low-Income Countries
    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 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 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.

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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 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 designed in collaboration with colleagues from Pennsylvania State University and includes, in addition to ethical analysis, empirical research on particularly vulnerable farmers in Southern Africa.

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The work of the Program extends beyond the projects outlined in the “7 by 5” report, to include work in the following areas:

  • Sustainable Food Systems & Diets
    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.

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  • Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture & Livelihoods
    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.

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  • Conflict & Food and Water Resources
    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 (eg, semi-arid lands in northern Kenya).

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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 weekly emails.


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