Field Notes

Seven Projects to Make Progress on Ethics
and Global Food Security

“With the world’s population likely to exceed 9.5 billion by 2050, the global community faces an enormous challenge—how to ensure everyone will have enough nutritious and safe food to secure a desirable level of health.”

So begins a landmark report issued from an international working group with expertise ranging from agronomy to bioethics to climate science, outlining the initial steps they believe must be taken toward solving one of society’s most fundamental public policy challenges, and doing so ethically.

"Today, more than 800 million people are undernourished and 2 billion are obese or overweight, all of them at risk of poor health and quality of life,” says Ruth Faden, PhD, MPH, director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, which spearheaded the ambitious project. “There’s wide agreement that this state of affairs can’t be allowed to continue, but making real progress that lasts and is fair requires confronting some extremely difficult ethical issues.

“The challenge of global food security is too urgent to ignore these ethical issues, but deciding which issues are the most important, and which ones can actually be resolved, isn’t obvious,” Faden adds.

The report is the product of a 2014 meeting of 23 diverse subject-matter experts in Ranco, Italy. It outlines distinct next steps: seven projects that reflect the breadth and complexity of global food ethics. While ambitious, each pointedly has a practical five-year timeline.

The report, titled “7 by 5 Agenda for Ethics and Global Food Security: 7 Projects to Make Progress on Ethics and Global Food Security in 5 Years,” details motivation and plans for each project, which in brief are the following:

  1. Ethical Challenges in Projections of Global Food Demand, Supply, and Prices: Identify and make concrete recommendations to decrease bias, increase accuracy, and enhance the integrity of projections of food demand, supply, and prices upon which food and agricultural policy decisions are based.
  2. The Food Sovereignty Movement and the Exceptionality of Food and Agriculture: Identify and narrow disagreements over the rights of peoples to democratic control over food, agricultural, and resource policy that are specifically rooted in different views about what makes food and agriculture distinct from other economic sectors.
  3. The Case for the Professionalization of Farming: Reframe farming as a service-oriented profession in which farmers as professionals have obligations to the public to use their specialized skills to meet legitimate expectations for food safety and environmental, worker, and farm animal protection.
  4. Global Agricultural Research and Development: Ethics, Priorities, and Funders: Develop reform-oriented recommendations to help ensure that a fair share of agricultural research and development is directly responsive to the needs and preferences of disadvantaged farmers in low-income countries.
  5. Climate-Smart and Climate-Just Agriculture: Demonstrate why and how “climate-smart agriculture” must also be “climate-just,” distributing its benefits and burdens fairly across geographic regions and generations.
  6. Ethics of Meat Consumption in High-Income and Middle-Income Countries: Make specific recommendations about the ethics of public and private interventions to alter meat-consumption patterns in high- and middle-income countries.
  7. Consumers, Certifications, and Labels: Ethically Benchmarking Food Systems: Develop the first integrated labeling system that will offer consumers easy access to trustworthy ethical information on environmental sustainability, animal welfare, labor standards, public health, and food safety.

“We’re committed to making these projects a reality. It’s possible to make progress on divisive ethical issues in global food security and food systems by focusing on a set of problems that are both significant and tractable,” says Yashar Saghai, PhD, the project director. “Our group presents a cohesive research and policy agenda that paves the way for a new approach to food and agricultural ethics on a global scale.”

“This is just the beginning, and while the challenge is huge, so is the moral obligation,” says Alan Goldberg, PhD, a member of the Global Food Ethics Project leadership team and the founding director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing.

— Source: Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics


Nutrition Advancements Usher in an Era
of Personalized Diets for Health

The days of the one-size-fits-all nutrition guidelines are numbered. Instead, scientists are exploring an array of new approaches to healthful eating that aim to prevent or even treat disease based on each person’s unique profile.

Chronic preventable diseases that can be related to diet, such as cardiovascular illness, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers, are the top cause of death worldwide, accounting for 60% of all deaths, according to the World Health Organization. These noncommunicable diseases kill 38 million people annually, nearly three-quarters of them in low- and middle-income countries.

Nutrition scientists are working to understand the crucial interactions between food and the human body in order to develop more individualized, targeted dietary guidelines and therapeutic options, according to the Institute of Food Technologists’ FutureFood 2050 initiative. FutureFood 2050 explores how increasingly sophisticated science and technology will help feed the world’s projected 9 billion-plus people in 2050.

Current dietary guidelines are determined by a “consensus [that] has to do with the average person, who’s of average weight and who’s healthy, and is either a man or woman of a particular age,” says Jeffrey Blumberg, who directs the Antioxidants Research Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University. “All 30-year-old women don’t require, in my view, exactly 75 mg of vitamin C a day to meet their vitamin C requirements. Some may need less. Some may need more. How do you know who you are unless you start to apply some newer approaches?”

Nutrition science leaders who talked to FutureFood 2050 this past May about the innovations they see as most promising for improving diets and fighting disease included the following:

  • Jeffrey Blumberg, a Tufts University nutrition scientist who says dietary guidance targeted to a person’s precise genetic makeup is the wave of the future;
  • Mark Heiman, chief scientific officer of MicroBiome Therapeutics, which is developing health-boosting nutritional therapies that increase the variety of gut microorganisms;
  • Dean Ornish, MD, creator of a renowned program for reversing cardiac disease, who believes dietary changes will continue to be key to a healthy heart;
  • Steven Schwartz, an Ohio State University food scientist working on functional food products to help prevent cancer and other illnesses; and
  • Robert Zeigler, director general of the International Rice Research Institute, which is coordinating the Golden Rice project designed to raise vitamin A levels in developing nations.

FutureFood 2050 is a multiyear program highlighting the people and stories leading the efforts in finding solutions to a healthier, safer, and better-nourished planet to feed 9 billion-plus people by 2050. Through 2015, the program will release 75 interviews with the world’s most impactful leaders in food and science. The interviews with nutrition innovation leaders are the 14th installment of FutureFood’s interview series, following sustainability, women in food science, food waste, food security and nutrition in Africa, aquaculture, futurists on food, innovative agriculture, kitchens of the future, obesity, alternative proteins, food safety, and climate change.

Early next year, FutureFood 2050 also will debut a documentary film exploring how the science of food will contribute solutions to feeding the world. See a behind-the-scenes interview with the film’s director at http://futurefood2050.com/behind-the-scenes-with-scott-hamilton-kennedy/.

For more information, visit FutureFood2050.com to subscribe to monthly updates, learn more about the project, and read the latest news on food science.

— Source: Institute of Food Technologists