From choosing to buy strawberries out of season, to buying fair trade food, joining a community gardening project, or campaigning against the overuse of plastic in food packaging, we all make regular ethical decisions about food. These choices are ethical because they involve values – principles, or reasons, for regarding practices as right or wrong.
- Wellbeing – what will be good or bad for humans and animals, for their health and welfare?
- Autonomy – how far should people be free to make their own choices about what they eat?
- Justice – are our ways of producing and consuming food fair to everyone?
Because they involve reasons and values, ethical choices are easy to argue about and contest. Weighing up competing values means that we have to sometime make tough choices between human health and autonomy, for instance, or between wellbeing and fairness.
Taking food ethics seriously, then, requires that we don’t simply take a stand on one ethical position – such as veganism, or plastics, or fair trade. It requires that we try to take into account all the different values involved in our food choices, that we consider all the consequences, look at issues ‘in the round’ and try to decide what is right, all things considered.
The Food Ethics Council helps find ways through controversial issues and develops tools for ethical decision-making.
We’ve brought diverse voices around the table to find a way forward for meat, livestock and dairy. We’ve advocated for fair play in how businesses engage with each other and their workers, with everyone being given a fair say. And our Food Citizenship project explores ideas of autonomy and the idea that we are not just consumers at the end of the food chain, but participants in the food system as a whole.
Our work includes:
Regular expert opinion on our website – essential reading on the key issues that matter in food and farming.
Business Forum – an opportunity for senior food executives to gain expert insight into ethical issues that are becoming core business concerns. Hosted by leading opinion formers, each of the bi-monthly meetings meets over dinner to discuss key issues.
Publications – we produce reports on key issues of the day, from food distribution to food packaging and many more.
Ethical tools – our publication ‘Ethics – a toolkit for business’ introduces business leaders and policy makers to key ideas in ethics and provides a framework for making better decisions.
Workshops and events – we organise policy workshops, conferences and seminars, independently and in partnership with others.
For over twenty years we have sought to apply a principled ethical approach to developments, concerns and decision-making in food and farming. Our work is rooted in incorporating respect for wellbeing autonomy and justice in relation to people, animals and the environment.
One of the first ethical tools used by the Food Ethics Council was the Ethical Matrix, designed by our founder Ben Mepham. This framework was created to help anyone – from food businesses to individuals – work through some of the ethical issues that may arise in the food and farming sector.
Designed to include a broad range of ethical concerns, the matrix aims to facilitate debate by considering a wide range of opinions and highlighting the different implications of a particular decision on the parties involved.
To understand more about food ethics watch this short explainer:
Anna Cura discusses food alternatives and why we should think differently about food culture.