Ethical Certification Workshop

March 2017

The US Dept. of the Interior, US Fish and Wildlife Service, National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia


Brief Summary


If free-range eggs once occupied a little part of the shelf, now the situation is completely reversed, with a dizzying array of options trumpeting eggs that are organic, or Omega-3 enriched, from hens that are cage-free, local, vegetarian fed, cage-free, or merely enjoying “outdoor access.” As it becomes increasingly complex for consumers to navigate supermarket shelves, the need for ethical guidance and information for consumers grows.


Last year, the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics and the Bloomberg School of Public Health embarked on a project to address this need. A key step involved bringing together a broad range of academic and industry experts to grapple with the myriad debates that emerge around trying to find ethical consensus. To ensure a lively and informed debate, we drew upon the expertise of purchasers, retailers, farmers, water conservation experts, food safety specialists, nutritionists, and academics focused on animal welfare, labor and human rights, crops and agriculture, the environment, and the evaluation of standards.


In preparation for the workshop seven academic members of the team wrote white papers to cover the core subject areas of the project: crop production; animal welfare; water utilization and impact; public health and nutrition; food safety; environmental impact; and labor and community issues. These papers provided on overview of the topic and highlighted moral issues to consider for ethical certification. In addition to providing background information on the subject matter, the white papers were also used to inform the statements of ethical concern formulated as Candidate Criteria. The Candidate Criteria laid the foundation for the workshop.


At the workshop’s end, the group managed to condense an original set of Candidate Criteria from seven categories into four categories of Critical Considerations to guide the design of an ethical certification scheme. These categories include: Environmental Impact & Resource Conservation; Labor & Smallholding Farmers; Community Well-Being; and Animal Welfare. In the end, what we have is not prescriptive, but a template for industry that details what is required for a food to be considered ethical. It will be up to industry to decide and share how they will meet those requirements in a verifiable, transparent way. We envision that industry partners will play a great role in the project’s success, and cheer the industry voices in the debate that helped keep questions of auditability and practicality at the forefront.


We are condensing and finalizing the Critical Considerations and will be sharing these in the very near future.

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Global Food Ethics

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