John Wilkinson, PhD, is an Associate Professor at the Graduate Center for Agricultural Development in the Rural Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. He 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?


My PhD was on small farmers in the Brazilian Northeast and I was always interested in the contribution of the peasantry to food supplies. For a long time I saw food security basically from the perspective of access and income distribution. Coordinating a study on biofuels recently made me more aware of the constraints and competition relating to land use and their implications for food security. Involvement in food consumption studies similarly brought to the fore the nutritional components of food security.


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


One issue which emerged from the biofuels study I mentioned was the way unilateral decisions taken by countries or regions could have enormous implications for third countries and regions. The European Union established targets for biofuels´ blending which it knew could only be achieved through large-scale imports. The stimulus of a guaranteed market led to a flurry of land investments particularly in developing regions and especially in Africa. There needs to be some mechanism of international consultation and monitoring in these cases. These recent land investments also revealed the difficulty of defending traditional communities´ rights over their own resources, decisive for food security.


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?



I was particularly struck by the discussion on the degree of unreliability of the data on Sub-Saharan Africa. Of course I realized that such data should be treated with caution but that the information might be so wide off the mark as to make its use for public policy questionable places the challenges in quite a different light.  More generally the Ranco meeting helped me to sharpen my own thinking on the special characteristics of food markets. In my work I have approached this more generically from the perspective of quality and values and I was provoked to focus more specifically on ethical values and different types of ethical values.


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


On this latter question I am broadly optimistic to the extent that I see that the internalization of values in food markets is no longer limited to alternative circuits and niche markets. Today the food system as a whole has to legitimize itself in relation to a range of social, economic and environmental values. Traditional appeals to efficiency and price continue to have their place but cannot be defended at the expense of such values. This provides a markedly more favorable context for the discussion of ethical question arising from food security.



Global Food Ethics Project: Feeding the World Fairly

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