Consumers, Certifications and Labels


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 Consumers, Certifications and Labels:

Ethically Benchmarking Food Systems

This project will develop a comprehensive rating system for the ethics of food that aggregates information provided by existing accurate and reliable certification and labeling programs, as well as new certification processes for food values for which no reliable certification or labeling programs exist.

The project has six specific objectives:

  1. Evaluate which ethical considerations in the food value chain can be (at least partly) addressed through a comprehensive labeling program, including food safety, sustainable farming practices, labor standards, public health, water resources and utilization, and animal welfare.

This vetting will occur partly through the project’s November 2018 Symposium. At that event, these considerations will be evaluated for their suitability for benchmarking. This will include the potential for consensus on ethical criteria, feasible operational measures, and public acceptability and industrial participation.

  1. Develop ethical criteria to address existing certification programs and create new ones, as needed. These criteria 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.
  1. Extensively map current certification programs and labels and assess them against these ethical criteria to benchmark best practices and identify areas in need of improvement.
  1. Develop a comprehensive, accurate, and user-friendly labeling system. The ultimate goal is to develop a mobile app.
  1. Encourage relevant food value chain actors to endorse this benchmarked labeling system.
  1. Inform the consumer on the labeling system and availability of the mobile app.

This comprehensive system will allow producers to target their products to standardized levels of ethical certification and allow consumers to easily and accurately identify and incorporate ethically-based knowledge into their food choices.

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Team Members

Johns Hopkins Project Team:

  • Alan Goldberg, PhD is the Principal Investigator, Professor of Toxicology; Founding Director (Emeritus), Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
  • Sara Glass, RD, Project Manager, Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics
  • Ruth Faden, PhD, MPH, Founding Director, Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics
  • Jessica Fanzo, PhD, Director, Global Food Ethics and Policy Program, Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics and School of Advanced International Studies
  • Shauna Downs, MSc, PhD, Hecht-Levi Fellow, Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics
  • Claire Davis, MA, Administrative Coordinator, Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics

Core Academic Team:

Paul B. Thompson holds the W.K. Kellogg Chair in Agricultural Food, and Community Ethics at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan. He has formerly held positions in philosophy at Texas A&M University and Purdue University. His research has centered on ethical and philosophical questions associated with agriculture and food, and especially concerning the guidance and development of agricultural techno-science.

Bernard Rollin is a distinguished professor of philosophy, animal sciences, and biomedical sciences at Colorado State University. He is a leading scholar in animal rights and animal consciousness. Dr. Rollin has authored numerous influential books in the field, including Animal Rights and Human Morality (1981), The Unheeded Cry: Animal Consciousness, Animal Pain and Scientific Change (1988), Farm Animal Welfare (1995), and Science and Ethics (2006).

Kees van Leeuwen is Principal Scientist at KWR Watercycle Research Institute (Nieuwegein) and professor in Water Management and Urban Development at the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development (Department of Innovation, Environmental and Energy Sciences) at the Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht University. He has published about 200 reports and publications and 2 editions of a book on risk assessment of chemicals. His research focus is sustainability of water in cities.

Anne Barnhill, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, and in the Department of Philosophy (where she has a secondary appointment).  She is also a Senior Fellow at the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Barnhill is a philosopher and bioethicist who works on food ethics, food policy, and public health ethics.  Her current research focuses on the ethics of non-rational persuasion and manipulation in public health.

Nicole Civita is the Assistant Director of the Rian Fried Center for Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems at Sterling College, where she also is faculty in Sustainable Food Systems and the program director for the School of the New American Farmstead. In addition to her role at Sterling College, Nicole teaches Food Justice and Urban Agriculture law and policy courses remotely for at the University of Arkansas School of Law and serves as the Director of its Food Recovery Project.  She was also responsible for expanding the specialized curriculum for the University of Arkansas School of Law’s LL.M Program in Agricultural & Food Law and transitioning the program to a hybrid residential and distance model.

Tara Garnett is a researcher at the University of Oxford, where she also runs the Food Climate Research Network (FCRN). The FCRN is an interdisciplinary and international network operating at the intersection of food production and consumption, climate and broader sustainability issues. Tara’s research centres on the interactions among food, climate, health, ethics and broader sustainability issues; she has a particular interest in livestock as a sector where many of these converge. Tara is also a fellow of the Oxford Martin School.

Herman Koëter is the founder and Managing Director of the Brussels based Orange House Partnership. Prior to establishing Orange House Partnership, Koëter held several positions at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in Parma, Italy, including Scientific Director, Deputy Executive Director and Acting Executive Director. He also served as Principal Administrator at the Paris based OECD Environment, Health and Safety Division, and as Associate Head of the Department of Biological Toxicology at TNO Toxicology and Nutrition Institute, Zeist, the Netherlands.

Project Advisors:

  • Suzanne McMillan, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)

Suzanne is the Content Director of the ASPCA’s Farm Animal Welfare campaign. Prior to the ASPCA, Suzanne served as a Farmed Animal Law Fellow at the Lewis &  Clark Animal Law Clinic and spent time researching and writing about farmed animal legal and policy issues, investigating factory farms and caring for rescued farmed animals.

Adele Douglass, CEO, founded HFAC in 2003, and she now directs all of HFAC’s programs and activities. She has served as an invited participant on numerous industry animal welfare committees and has received recognitions from the ASPCA, Civic Ventures, Ashoka and the RSPCA. Prior to her position with Humane Farm Animal Care, Douglass initiated the Free Farmed Program for Farm Animal Services and served as director of the American Humane Association’s Washington, D.C. office.

Steve Wearne is the Director of Policy of the UK Food Standards Agency. He previously served as Director of FSA Wales and with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in a range of posts related to food science and food policy development.

Peter O’Driscoll is the executive director of the Equitable Food Initiative in Washington D.C. He also has served as executive director of ActionAid USA, director of the Private Sector in Development Project at the Center of Concern, and Latin America Director at Ashoka.

Ruth DeFries is a professor of ecology and sustainable development at Columbia University in New York. Her research quantifies how land use changes affect climate, biodiversity and other ecosystem services, as well as human development. She has also developed innovate education programs in sustainable development.

Industry Partners:

Bon Appetit Management Company is an on-site restaurant company offering full food-service management to corporations, universities, museums, and specialty venues. Based in Palo Alto, CA, the company operates more than 650 cafés in 33 states for dozens of marquee clients.

At Bon Appetit, we work with Fedele Bauccio, co-founder and CEO, and Maisie Ganzler, Chief Strategy & Brand Officer.

Fedele Bauccio founded Bon Appetit Management Company in 1987 and launched the Farm to Fork Program in 1994. Farm to Fork represents the company’s commitment to the health of its customers, communities, and the planet itself.  Fedele and Bon Appétit have revolutionized the food service industry, both by introducing fresh, made-from-scratch food to the contract market and by pioneering environmentally and socially responsible practices designed to create a more sustainable food system.

Maisie Ganzler has been instrumental in shaping the company’s strategic direction: she helped develop Farm to Fork, as well as several other sustainable initiatives and purchasing policies. She is also cofounder and president of the Bon Appétit Management Company Foundation, whose mission is to educate people about how their food choices affect the global environment and local economies.

In addition to our existing partner, we hope to collaborate with another 3-4 food companies.

Contact us at

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  •  White Papers

The white papers are based on the Moral Maps, an output of the Global Food Ethics program. These papers are a set of documents that explore different ethical issues in the food system. Areas of interest include plants and crops, animal welfare, food safety, water (impact on and utilization of), environmental impact, public health and nutrition, and occupational and community issues. The white papers provide the basis for deciding which ethical considerations should be included in the overall rating.

These papers have been drafted by the Core Academic Team and developed through a workshop held in March 2017. The papers are available below:

For more details on each expert’s background, see the Core Academic Team section. 

  • Workshop Discussions

In March 2017, the JHU team, Academic Core, and Industry Partners met for the Ethical Certification Workshop in Shepherdstown, WV. The Ethical Certification Workshop Summary was written by Dayna Myers, Science Writer for the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

  • Academic Papers

The Core Academic Team will write academic papers that are informed by the Moral Maps. These papers will be presented at our November 2018 Symposium.

  • Template for Ethical Certification Mark

The Ethical Certification Mark will evaluate different ethical values in food products. This comprehensive, user-friendly mark will use color to distinguish ethical considerations.

  • Algorithm and App Development 

The algorithm will be informed by the white papers, literature search, and current certifications database.

The app will be used by scanning the mark. It will provide a single numeric rating for the product as well as access to the detailed information used in developing that rating. 

  • Symposium

Our Symposium will take place in November 2018 in Baltimore, MD. At this event, we will share our findings from the project. For more details, see Project Meetings and Events.

  • Book

We intend to publish a book in spring 2019 that draws from the white papers, academic papers, and Symposium.

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Project Meetings and Events 

Consumers, Labels, and Certifications Workshop: March 2017 in Shepherdstown, WV

  • Closed meeting of JHU team, Academic Core, and Industry Partners
  • Opportunity to define Moral Maps and inform algorithm

Our meeting was a great success: to learn more, read the Ethical Certification Workshop Summary written by Dayna Myers, Science Writer for the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

Open Industry Discussion Forum: March 6, 2018 in Baltimore, MD at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Feinstone Hall

  • Opportunity to share Moral Maps and our evaluation of existing certifications
  • Discussion of practical concerns with implementing the mark
  • Contact us at if you would like to be placed on the mailing list to receive updated information!

Symposium: November 5-8, 2018 in Baltimore, MD

  • Open to the public!
  • Participants include JHU team, Academic Core, Industry Partners, and Advisors
  • Discussion of ethical criteria, labeling system, mark, and mobile app
  • Industry partners sharing corporate policies and initiatives relevant to the mark/certification
  • Sharing of the Moral Maps and the development of the mark/certification
  • Consumer information
  • Symposium publication – book to be published in spring 2019
  • Contact us at if you would like to be placed on the mailing list to receive updated information!

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Current Work: Spring/Summer 2017 

  • Condensing and finalizing the Critical Considerations from our March meeting

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In the News, Media Highlights, and Publications 

Media Coverage

Johns Hopkins Magazine: Toxicologist aims to label, rate food producers’ ethical standards (Spring 2017) Seven projects to make progress on ethics and global food security in five years

Blog Posts and Web Contributions

Ethical Guidance for the Supermarket: The Consumers, Certifications, and Labels Project’s Ethical Certification Workshop (2017)

Farm animal production and human health (2017)

New Food Labeling Law (2016)

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)

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Contact Us

Are you a potential industry partner interested in attending our Open Industry Discussion Forum? 

Do you know of an existing certification or mark that you think we should hear about?

Questions? Concerns?

Email us at!

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