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

The Ethics of Food Futures Studies Project 

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%. Similar variations and uncertainties are striking with respect to many other indicators of food systems. Beyond the results of the studies, discrepancies among studies on the selection of relevant indicators and the quality of data sources used are also consequential. In addition, the sheer heterogeneity of methods used to explore the futures of food undermines meaningful comparisons between studies. These issues and many others compromise responsible and informed collective choices vital for humanity, the wellbeing of nonhuman animals, and our impact on ecosystems and Earth systems. To put it succinctly: Disagreements on what policies we should adopt to shape the future of food depend on how we assess the evolution of food systems over the long-term. Nothing is more fundamental.

What is commonly called “futures,” “foresight,” or “prospective” research applies scientific rigor, artful skill, and practical imagination to predict, forecast or anticipate possible futures of food that are relevant to present-day choices. Building on foresight practitioners’ rich tradition of reflection on their own work and its ethical, political, and knowledge-related assumptions, our interdisciplinary team will initiate the first in-depth investigation of these questions in the context of global food foresight studies. Its innovative approach will borrow tools from social and human sciences, economics, agronomy, nutrition, climate science, practical ethics, political philosophy, and philosophy of science to shed light on global food foresight studies.

The project pursues three aims; each aim requires theoretical work performed in close consultation with global food foresight practitioners, commissioners, end-users, and a variety of concerned social actors:

  1. Identify ethical, political, and knowledge-related issues in global food futures studies, institutions, and practices.
  2. Elaborate new pathways, including but not limited to policy recommendations, to address identified issues.
  3. Engage with the general public to foster a lively, informed, and democratic public debate on our planet’s food futures.

This project elaborates on an idea originally described in the 7 by 5 Agenda: Ethical Challenges in Projections of Global Food Demand, Supply, and Prices.

Project Duration: May 2016-April 2017

Funder: Stavros Niarchos Foundation