Ethics of Food Distribution

The distribution of food creates relations between people, institutions and governments that politically and ethically charged. A continual problem throughout human history has been the just distribution of food during times of scarcity and famine. In recent decades there has been growing concern over the vulnerability of food systems to terrorism and food-borne illnesses. In addition, the global trade of food and governance of the food system further compounds these concerns.
by rjp218 Mar 20, 2015

Food Safety and Bioterrorism

While there has not been a large-scale terrorist attack through the food system, the potential for such an attack has prompted a variety of precautionary and security measures to isolate and regulate vulnerable points of the system. Many of the approaches to counter bioterrorism via the food system have drawn on and reframed existing food safety strategies. The below texts provide an introduction to this developing literature.

Chalk, Peter. Hitting America’s Soft Underbelly: The Potential Threat of Deliberate Biological Attacks against the U.S. Agricultural and Food Industry. Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2004.

Written for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, this text offers an assessment and examination of the infrastructure and preparedness of the United States to deal with a potential bioterrorist attack on or through agriculture and food systems.

DeWaal, Caroline Smith. "Food protection and defense: Preparing for a crisis."Minnesota Journal of Law, Science and Technology 8, no. 1 (2007): 187-198.

Situating her analysis in the context of the September 11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina, DeWaal argues that the US is equally unprepared for major food contamination event. This article surveys key national and international policy documents and recommendations from the past decade and outlines the elements that the global community and US need to attended to, arguing that there are a number of gaps and inefficiencies.

Rasco, Barbara A., and Gleyn E. Bledsoe. Bioterrorism and Food Safety. Taylor & Francis, 2004.

This is a policy-focused text, providing a detailed overview of definitions of food terrorism, potential agents for an attack, existing regulations, security strategies and mechanisms for tracking food. Rasco and Bledsoe do not provide critical analysis, but do offer a detailed and useful catalogue of the relevant themes, policies and activities within the food and agricultural system.

Sperling, Daniel. “Food LawEthicsand Food SafetyRegulationsRoles,Justificationsand Expected Limits.” Journal of Agriculture and Environmental Ethics Vol. 23, no. 3 (2010): 267-278.

Within the framework of public health ethics, Sperling discusses the roles and limits of the ethics of food safety. Sperling argues that ethics needs to interact with different aspects of public health law in order to promote food safety. This is a helpful discussion of the different and complementary roles of ethics and law in food safety.

World Health Organization. Terrorist threats to food: Guidance for establishing and strengthening prevention and response systems. Food Safety Department, World Health Organization, 2002.

In this document the WHO provides policy advice for nations to strengthen their food systems, public health disease surveillance, and emergency in preparation for and prevention of a potential terrorist attack. This is an important policy document and useful for in class discussion and debate.

Food Security, Hunger and Poverty

Food security is related to bioterrorism, however it also extends to the tragic and recurring issue of famine and poverty. The texts below provide detailed analysis of the contemporary global food system and examine why in an age of abundance, wealth and advancement there are still people who are hungry and uncertain as to where their next meal will come from.

Brown, Lester R. Outgrowing the Earth: The Food Security Challenge in an Age of Falling Water Tables and Rising Temperatures. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2005.

Brown catalogues the impact of growing the population and agricultural practices on the environment, particularly water tables and temperature trends. As the notion of food security has expanded from agricultural departments to be a concern of key governmental offices.

McDonald, Bryan L. Food Security. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2010.

McDonald provides a detailed and well-argued analysis of the food security literature and most pressing food security issues. McDonald provides an accessible account of diverse manifestations of malnutrition, challenges of climate change and threats to health via food-borne disease and contamination. A useful text for graduate students and researchers seeking a comprehensive view of the field.

Pinstrup-Andersen, Per, and Peter Sandøe, eds. EthicsHunger and GlobalizationIn Search of Appropriate Policies. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 2007.

This volume edited by Pinstrup-Andersen and Sandøe provides a significant contribution to the ethical analysis of hunger in the context of globalization. While a number of significant works address the complexities of food security and hunger in the global food system this volume provides a rigorous ethical examination of these issues.

Sen, Amartya. Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

In this landmark text, Sen argues against the conventional wisdom that famine is the result of lack of food to demonstrate that social and political structures are responsible for the distribution of food in ways that can lead to starvation and famine when these structures deteriorate or are corrupted.

Shaw, John. The UN World Food Programme and the Development of Food Aid. New York: Palgrave, 2001.

Shaw writes the origins and history of the UN world food programme. This an important text for graduate students and researchers interested in the governance of hunger and poverty in the era of globalization.

Van Niekerk, Alvin, ed. Ethics in Agriculture--an African Perspective. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 2005

This volume provides valuable insights and perspectives on agriculture and ethics in Africa. Van Niekerk edits a collection of articles addressing the influence of biotechnology, relationship between ethics, agriculture and HIV/AIDS, ethical and legal issues surrounding land reform, biodiversity, and medicinal plants.

Global Food System and Trade

The global food system influences a variety of ethical concerns relating to the production and distribution of food. A further aspect yet to be addressed are the drivers of trade and commercialization that shape distribution chains, price, wages and national economies. The references selected below open up important avenues of reflection and analysis regarding trade and the global food system.

David, Christina. Food Fights over Free Trade: How International Institutions Promote Agricultural Trade Liberalization. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003.

David provides a detailed historical analysis of the trade liberalization process, the role of international institutions and the effect of both the process and outcomes for domestic agricultural policies and practices.

De Schutter, Olivier. "Agribusiness and the right to food." Report presented to the Human Rights Council, UN General Assembly, [A/HRC/13/33] 2010.

In this report, De Schutter examines the relationship between agribusiness corporations and States, and their effect on the right to food. De Schutter argues that States and agribusiness have a responsibility to contribute to the realization of the right to food and makes ten recommendations to shape agribusiness conduct toward this end.

Shiva, Vandana. Stolen HarvestThe Hijacking of the Global Food Supply. London, ON: Zed Books, 2000.

The work of Shiva has been extremely influential in environmental ethics and politics. Her scathing criticisms of biotechnology and agricultural companies such as Monsanto have made her a popular yet divisive figure. In Stolen Harvest, Shiva criticizes the patenting of seeds as theft and argues that the growth of industrialized global agriculture has led to increased hunger and poverty in the developing world.

Weis, Anthony J. The Global Food EconomyThe Battle for the Future of Farming.  London, ON.: Zed Books, 2007.

In this accessible and concise book, Weis examines the tensions, contradictions and inequalities in the global food economy. In addition to critical analysis, Weis offers alternatives to assist farmers, activists and students in thinking and practicing a new approaches to production, distribution and trade.