Anne Barnhill, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania. She participated in the Feeding the World, Ethically working group meeting in Ranco, Italy in October 2014. Here is a brief interview as part of the Perspectives on Global Food Ethics blog series.




Can you briefly describe your related background and interest in food security?


I work on the ethics of food, and much of my recent research is on the ethics of healthy eating policy – that is, the ethical issues raised by government’s efforts to change what people eat, in order to improve their health.  Along with having people eat more healthfully, there are other changes to food-related behavior that would contribute to ensuring food security and healthy diets for all, and to do so sustainably.  A good example is reducing consumption of meat and other animal-source foods among most populations in developed countries, which would improve health and reduce the environmental impact of the food system.


In your opinion, what are the most pressing ethical issues in your domain related to global food security?


The “double burden” of disease remains a pressing issue—developing countries that still have a significant burden of undernutrition and infectious disease (such as malaria and HIV), are increasingly burdened with overnutrition and diet-related non-communicable diseases (such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer).  More people now die worldwide from non-communicable diseases than infectious diseases, and consequently, more attention is being paid on the global stage to preventing and treating non-communicable diseases.


While this focus on non-communicable disease is important, an ethical challenge is to make sure that it does not overshadow the persisting problem of undernutrition, particularly among children.  Poor nutrition early in life causes health problems in childhood, but we’re also learning that it contributes to the development of chronic disease later in life.  This makes it all the more important that we prioritize meeting the nutritional needs of children and pregnant women.



Can you share one issue or anecdote from the Feeding the World, Ethically meeting in Ranco that may have changed your perception on one ethical problem within food and nutrition security?


Back on the theme of reducing consumption of animal-source foods, one issue that Jess Fanzo brought up at our meeting is whether consuming meat has nutritional advantages for some populations because it provides micronutrients that they realistically won’t get elsewhere.  Even if a vegetarian diet is in principle nutritionally adequate, what if such a diet isn’t available to all populations in developing countries?  Our ethical recommendations and policy goals have to be sensitive to this issue.


What is your hope for making progress on this ethical problem?


I see reducing consumption of animal-source foods among many populations as a “win-win-win-win” – a change that would be a win for animal welfare, human health, the environment, and for global food security.  But along with the issue that meat consumption may have nutritional value for some populations, there are other ethical complexities here.  How do we accommodate the social and cultural value of meat and other animal-source foods?  Even if it’s socially desirable for people to eat less animal-source food, is this a legitimate goal for governments to have?  If it is, what are ethical ways for governments to get people to eat less animal-source food?



Global Food Ethics Project: Feeding the World Fairly

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Anne Barnhill
Global Food Ethics

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