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This research paper examines the different dimensions of food security as one of the ethical problems facing humanity. A range of ethical issues including hunger, access to and preserving natural resources, introduction of new technology, conservatism over the use of genetic engineering, access to information, right to food; food intake and poverty; food security, ecosecurity and the commons; genetic resources; pesticides; food security and energy; food trade; intergenerational security; sustainable rural development; information; consumer choice, food quality and consumer’s health; animal intensiﬁcation; antibiotics and food security; and participation. Suggestions on the role of the United Nations in the global ethical debate in food and agriculture are made, with discussion of FAO. The ethical role of FAO is to promote global food security, balanced conservation, management and utilization of natural resources, and sustainable rural development.
The availability and accessibility of food are issues of major importance for all people and all countries and place a high demand on energy, land, and water resources. Food occupies the ﬁrst position among the hierarchical needs of a human being. The Roman philosopher Seneca said, “a hungry man listens neither to religions nor reason nor is bent by any prayer.” It is a widely held view that one of the largest threats to food production is climate change and that all elements of air, water, land, ﬂora, and fauna are interlinked and interdependent. Today, human activities such as urbanization, industrialization, and intensive agriculture have led to major environmental challenges, and these challenges take on different forms in different parts of the world.
During the twentieth century “bioethics” has emerged as a term to encompass the ethical issues associated with moral dilemmas involving living organisms. The term “bioethics” includes medical ethics and environmental ethics, and the concepts of bioethics have also long included the ethics of agriculture, ﬁsheries, and forestry (Macer 1998; Mepham et al. 1995; Thompson 1998). The initial use of the word “bioethics” was in a paper in German by Fritz Jahr (1927) on “The bioethical responsibilities of human beings to plants and animals” and later in English in the ﬁeld of environmental ethics by Potter in 1970. Although in simple terms bioethics has been called love of life (Macer 1998), it is a broad concept linking many traditional and contemporary academic ﬁelds. Food security, human attitudes to the environment and to the use of natural resources, and biotechnology are within the deﬁnition of bioethics (Macer et al. 2003).
Agriculture, as with almost all of human life and activity, is a social activity, involving many relationships with people and the ecosystem. There is a range of issues in the ethics of food and agriculture, and they have relation to environmental ethics and human security (Macer 2015). The international community has recognized many issues of food security, as, for example, can be seen in the reporting format for monitoring the implementation on the World Food Summit Plan of Action. The headings include political problems (issues concerning human rights and fundamental freedoms; issues concerning transparent and accountable governance; issues concerning participatory practices in policymaking, legislation, and implementation), social problems (especially gender and discrimination), economic problems (uneven distribution and access to land and other resources, degradation of natural resources), possible problems preventing the poor from maximizing their income, problems constraining access to food by the poor, and problems preventing the poor and vulnerable groups from strengthening their capacity for self-reliance. As each country reports on its progress, they are called to list the identiﬁcation of the problem and national objectives. Thus we can see that the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has a mechanism that could be expanded to provide global reporting on food security including on the ethical issues raised by food and agriculture.
History And Development
The use of the term “food security” emerged from the 1974 World Food Conference, which saw the ﬁrst article of the Universal Declaration on the Eradication of Hunger and Malnutrition that was adopted by governments read, “Every man, woman and child has the inalienable right to be free from hunger and malnutrition in order to develop fully and maintain their physical and mental faculties.” In 1974 the concept was stated at the national level, with a state being food secure when there was sufﬁcient food to “sustain a steady expansion of food consumption and to offset ﬂuctuations in production and prices.” In the 1996 World Food Conference the emphasis was placed on individuals, and food security “exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufﬁcient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”
The concept of food security emerged from the general concerns for adequate food that saw centralized granaries distribute food in China and in Egypt around 10,000 years ago during times of famine. Governments which do not provide sufﬁcient food at affordable prices to people are likely to be removed by the people. Governments of the world joined together in 1948 to create the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) to work in the service of humanity for food production and provision of food. Based on the constitutional mandate, and interpretation of the mandate by member countries, the role of FAO is to promote global food security, balanced conservation, management and utilization of natural resources, and sustainable rural development. The mandate can be interpreted as a call to action, based on the ethical principle of beneﬁcence that is seen in the preamble of the constitution: “The Nations accepting this Constitution, being determined to promote the common welfare by furthering separate and collective action on their part for the purpose of: raising levels of nutrition and standards of living of the peoples under their respective jurisdictions; securing improvements in the efﬁciency of the production and distribution of all food and agricultural products; bettering the condition of rural populations; and thus contributing toward an expanding world economy and ensuring humanity’s freedom from hunger; hereby establish the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.”
Ensuring humanity’s freedom from hunger is the most commonly cited mission of FAO in documents and was also expressed in the seven commitments of the World Food Summit in 1996 that saw the term “food security” emerge. The ethical role of FAO has been interpreted broadly by member countries and has been reworded in the 1999 Strategic Framework (Article 30) in three interrelated global goals which FAO is dedicated to helping member countries achieve (FAO 1999):
- Access of all people at all times to sufﬁcient nutritionally adequate and safe food, ensuring that the number of chronically undernourished people is reduced by half, no later than 2015.
- The continued contribution of sustainable agriculture and rural development, includes ﬁsheries and forestry, to economic and social progress and the well-being of all.
- The conservation, improvement and sustainable utilization of natural resources, includes land, water, forest, ﬁsheries and genetic resources for food and agriculture.
In interviews conducted among over 100 FAO staff in 1999 to establish the Ethics and Food in Agriculture program, “food security” was directly cited by 40 % of staff, as it is in the constitutional mandate (Bhardwaj et al. 2003). There are regions of the world where food production is sufﬁcient, which was said to allow those societies to spend more time and money to improve the quality of life of farmers and animals. Those countries and regions have food security.
The 1996 Rome Declaration on World Food Security reafﬁrmed the “the right of everyone to have access to safe and nutritious food, consistent with the right to adequate food and the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger.” This is what the concept of food security entails, and it is more widely accepted politically to the legal “right to food.” A right to food in a legal sense is indirectly implied under the United Nations Declaration for Human Rights, but attempts to have all countries speciﬁcally recognize a legal right to food have not met unanimous agreement. There are Voluntary Guidelines to support the progressive realization of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security issued by FAO Council in 2004 to work toward that. The wellbeing of people is one of the fundamental goals of FAO and was included in the ﬁrst FAO (2001) publication on Ethics in Food and Agriculture: “A more equitable, ethically-based, food and agriculture system must incorporate concern for three widely accepted global goals, each of which incorporate numerous normative propositions: improved well-being, protection of the environment and improved public health.”
The problem of food security may be seen in many contexts. For example, it is related to unequal distribution of food, as well as to people’s image of food (Macer et al. 2003). The image of what is a “food” is a cultural concept that changes over time. What is considered as food in the United States is different from what is understood in Asia and Africa, and also in Europe. For example, milk is food in some countries where others do not accept it as “food.” In addition we can bring in a long-term perspective, so that a country may have “food security” if its food production is expected to be sufﬁcient without environmental destruction over the coming two generations of human life. On this note, a country that produces enough food this year but is expected to not be able to produce enough food next year and is losing agricultural production each year is not a food-secure country in a broad and long-term deﬁnition.
Beyond the question of deﬁnitions, can we measure food security? The FAO introduced the concept of maximum sustainable yield (MSY) in ﬁsheries since 1957 in attempts to limit overﬁshing, yet overﬁshing of the global commons is even more of a problem in the twenty-ﬁrst-century than 50 years before. The accelerated rate of loss of biodiversity is a central ethical problem facing humanity because biodiversity is irreplaceable for the foreseeable future. The MSY in ﬁsheries needs to be assessed for each species in each region, requiring a mechanism for ongoing review and monitoring. The concept of MSY has evolved into monitoring of unethical practices in ﬁshing by the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. One example of an ethical analysis procedure is that for the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries included in “Rapﬁsh” (Pitcher 1999). While there is international consensus that food security is important, it seems difﬁcult to have nations think in a long-term perspective when increasing human populations demand for more protein from animals.
Food Intake And Poverty
Perhaps the most controversial ethical issue is deﬁning what a minimum standard of life is. Poverty and hunger are ethically inconsistent with the foundations of ethics, for example, respect for persons, beneﬁcence, and justice. The issue of equity in society and how this impacts on hunger and access to food is still very important and goes beyond bioethics. The principle of solidarity has been seen for some time in international food assistance programs and responses to famines where people in rich countries help those in poor countries or people in times of disaster. Recognition of a right to food requires setting a standard for how much food each person requires.
Measurement of national food intake could be approximated by dividing the total amount of food sold by the number of people. Surveys of consumers can also be made. However, it is very difﬁcult to get ﬁgures from the groups which have very low consumption because some of these people live on streets and it is difﬁcult to ﬁnd them and ask them to ﬁll in a questionnaire. A controversial issue that is basic to poverty and hunger more generally is deﬁning what a minimum standard of life is. Poverty is a major issue because it reduces options for exercising all rights, including to food.
Food Security, Ecosecurity And The Commons
Concerns over ethical values have been made more urgent by the fact that the crisis of the environment is touching agricultural production and people in every country. The crisis has made more people aware of the ecological fact that persons live in an ecosystem. The objects, and subjects, of ethics can be viewed in terms of ecocentric, biocentric, or anthropocentric concerns.
Anthropocentric arguments are those that relate directly to human beings, but they can indirectly help the environment because of human dependence upon it. Biocentric thinking puts value on individual organisms, for example, one tree or one animal. We could also use “biocentric” to describe arguments when the whole species is valued. The ecocentric concerns, which value the ecosystem as a whole, are used when expressing some environmental concerns. There is a trend for more ecocentric values to be included in legislation, with protection of ecosystems for their own value. Biodiversity is valued by the international community in the Convention on Biological Diversity and in the Universal; Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights in 1997. Agriculture itself is an activity of human beings modifying the environment; in that sense natural environment and agriculture environment are connected. The issue of risk is also important in all areas of agriculture, whether we take an anthropocentric or ecocentric approach (Hardaker 2009).
The ethics of the conservation, management, and utilization of common and shared natural resources is a fundamental issue in agriculture representing the spatial aspects of natural resources. The terms “common” and “shared” have different meanings, but the term “common” has a longer history in ethics. While management of shared resources can help conserve them more effectively, the open access to all of humankind (and other organisms) implied by the term “commons” is important.
The concept of common property has a different nuance in ethics and in law, but societies have developed methods to balance the competing interests of individuals over common property throughout history. Increasing water scarcity (competition for limited water resources) is to be expected because the annually available renewable freshwater resources are roughly constant while the population keeps increasing. Water scarcity results in growing pressure to consider water as an economic good in addition to a social good, raising access issues with regard to water for domestic purposes and to ensure food security, which need to be made ethically (Macer 2015).
Another issue is direct and indirect export of pollution, including direct dumping of unwanted farm chemicals in third-world countries as well as ecologically damaging production practices in the South to produce products for the North. There are other general issues such as the value of individual human lives exposed to occupational hazards and the extent and content of regulations and laws in these areas. Traces of harmful chemicals threaten food security. Agriculture is the major source of water pollution, and reduction in water pollution has been said by the U.S. National Research Council (2010) to be the most signiﬁcant beneﬁt of genetically engineered crops.
There are also a range of agreements on protecting plant genetic resources from extinction in the 1990s based on provision of food security (IPGRI 1997) that led to the adoption of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources, which replaced in 2002 the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources, and the International Code of Conduct for Collecting and Transfer of Germplasm is under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Commission on Genetic Resources in Food and Agriculture (CGRFA), and the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) requires the active work of the member governments and the secretariats to work out agreed interpretations of the articles and progress speciﬁc measures for extending the number of species covered, for example. Guidelines for biosafety assessment (he Cartagena Protocol) and beneﬁt sharing (the Bonn guidelines) have been developed out of these meetings also. Future opportunities include extension of similar instruments to animals and ﬁsh.
The intensiﬁcation and modernization debates highlight differences between North and South and countries with different population densities. This includes the questions of use of high-yielding plant and animal varieties and external inputs and pesticides. The Green Revolution was targeted at increasing production and was considered to be particularly successful in the short term but has now been recognized as having created environmental and social problems. For 50 years the holistic concept of integrated pest management (IPM), since 1965, has attempted to use a more ecologically sustainable regimen of pesticide applications in agriculture so as to preserve the ecosystems that provide numerous indirect beneﬁts to agriculture. The ethical principle of “do no harm” is behind the efforts to reduce unethical and unsafe practices involving pesticides by the International Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides and the PIC Convention.
Food Security And Energy
Food production taps into energy ﬂow directly and indirectly, and depending upon the type of food production utilized, the differences in efﬁcient use of energy will vary greatly. Shifts toward intensive meat production systems have been dependent upon the availability of relatively cheap fossil fuel energy as a foundation for their various models of operation. In addition to this cheap fossil fuel energy dependence, mounting evidence from the developed countries supports the notions that these systems have not operated in environmentally, economically, and socially responsible manners through extensive negative cost externalizations (Kanaly et al. 2010).
The Peasant’s Charter in 1979 promoted the human rights of poor farmers, and the World Soil Charter in 1982 drew attention to the maintenance of soil and land (Macer et al. 2003). Food and food products of agriculture should not be considered as simple tradable goods because this is the key ingredient for security and survival of people. This is also the basic income source for very poor farmer families in developing countries. The idea of putting a competition between very small farmer families with very little means and rich farmers of Australasia, the United States, and Western Europe with huge production means is unfair.
Sustainable rural development is a broad concept, though it is difﬁcult to deﬁne. It is important for sustainability to provide greater good and economic self-sufﬁciency to the developing countries. Participation of people at all levels in all countries to be more involved in decisions over the entire food production system can meet the demands of poor countries and improve the quality of life. This is based on the concept of autonomy. If we are going to serve humanity we need to consider ways to make farmer’s lives better.
The ethics of the conservation, management, and utilization of natural resources for present versus future generations is a central ethical issue for all countries and for most areas of food and agriculture. How to achieve a balance between present and future needs has been considered within a variety of legal instruments by governments and in the academic literature. Energy-intensive consumption patterns and wasteful management practices jeopardize the ecological balance for future generations. What trade-offs should be made between natural and man-made resources? There are nonrenewable natural resources such as fossil groundwater and oil, which are now used for agriculture. The ethical issue of limiting current behavior because of future needs relates to the entire food chain; at the level of food production, there are a number of issues raised like use of resources, soil erosion, destruction of certain species, and varieties of plants and animals. This is related to both the present and future, since there is an ethical issue in what we should give to our children: an unspoiled and protected world. Governments in both the developing and developed world face these questions because resources are ﬁnite but population and consumption are increasing. In 1972 the UN Conference on the Human Environment exposed this issue at a global level. Different areas have different timescales of vision, ranging from forestry, which can have a vision the order of 100 years for long-lived species like teak, to agriculture and ﬁsheries, which may be difﬁcult to predict for even a few years.
Provision Of Neutral And Accurate Information About Food Security
Provision of neutral and accurate information is basic to any informed debate on food security. Much data is available to those with Internet access, though the hungriest people in the world, and many poor farmers, are unlikely to have access to the Internet and information it provides. FAO like other UN agencies are secretariats to member countries and thus have duties to all member countries to gather and share information. The key information on the number of hungry people in the world is important and also has political value. Some countries may not like to report their actual projected grain production, for example, because it will affect their trade position in negotiating agricultural trade and even in terms of internal political stability. Independent data accounts only for a very small proportion of the total data in FAO reports. Traditionally UN agencies have focused on their responsibility to member governments, so they will usually act by responding to government requests to provide good information, policy, and services to farmers, through providing this to governments.
Consumer Choice, Food Quality, And Consumer’s Health
Another target of information is the consumer. Sometimes controversial ethical issues are difﬁcult to resolve because of conﬂicting sources of information that can still be seen for issues such as food irradiation and genetically modiﬁed (GM) food.
Information dissemination is an ethical responsibility of those who possess the information. Consumer choice is one of the virtues applauded in modern society, and issues like labeling and increasing participation of consumers in deciding what products are sold in the markets are supported by multibillion dollar advertising. Information including shelf life, and content, respects the consumer’s right to know what is in their food, empowering them to make more informed choices.
The GM food debate includes environmental issues and food safety issues. Public opinion studies show acceptance of GM food varies between countries and other times. The concerns people have include their own health, lack of controls, no labels, fear of the unknown, and some think it is unnatural. GM crops and their effects on environment and genetic diversity are a major issue because any farmer who is offered a very good variety that exceeds the one they have will abandon the land races that we have and we might lose the variability that has been a central issue of food security. However, current scientiﬁc reviews of the evidence from the commercialization of genetically engineered corn, cotton, and soybean have found environmental beneﬁts, including reduced soil tillage, reduced runoff of agricultural wastes in water, reduced pesticide use, fuel use, and labor (National Research Council 2010). Additional issues of genetic modiﬁcation include intellectual property concerns such as prevention of farmer’s ability to grow future crops from saved seeds due to terminator technology. The Codex Alimentarius Commission approved guidelines in June 1999 on organic food. Codex Alimentarius recommendations regarding organic food state that organic food should not be irradiated; however, irradiation is the only treatment which leaves no residues. But organic is supposed to be natural, and the term “irradiation” is frightening for everyone. However, organic foods unfortunately are claimed to be responsible for food-borne diseases.
Throughout the world today, an estimated two billion people depend primarily on a meat-based diet. The world’s production of meat has surged ﬁvefold in the second half of the twentieth century, and it continues to grow (Kanaly et al. 2010). The production of animal protein requires expending human and fossil energy to supply livestock with forage and grain. Energy is needed to produce feed, fertilizers, and pharmaceuticals, which in turn are converted into animal tissue. Energy is also expended in the support of activities such as meat processing, transportation, and refrigeration.
Almost everywhere, animals are killed for human consumption. Humans in many environments have to depend on other living beings for survival, and killing animals has become part of human life. Some people choose not to eat animals. A vegetarian is a person who does not eat animals. A vegan is one who does not eat any animals or animal products (milk, eggs, etc.) or use animal products (e.g., leather). There are proven health advantages to eat less meat to lower the level of saturated fat, especially in middle-aged persons living in countries where people over consume food. Some choose not to eat animals for moral or religious reasons.
Eating more plants as compared to animals also has environmental advantages as food and energy is wasted in the transfer from plants to animals. When comparisons are made between species and production system, there are signiﬁcant differences in the percentage of energy transfer from plant to animal protein. In traditional systems where solar energy is converted to grass and then to livestock, the principal environmental concern is the extra land required. Fertilizer is still used extensively for the sun-grass system, and that is made by fossil fuels. Except for South Asia, most people today say it is natural for us to eat some meat or ﬁsh. However, the quantity of animals consumed rises with economic prosperity. Even if we do eat animals we should minimize the harm we cause. Many people will continue to eat animals, and practical ethics must improve the ethical treatment of all animals.
In the developed countries, fossil fuel energy requirements for the production of meat and animal products have become more intensive over the last 50 years through intensiﬁed industrialization. At the same time, signiﬁcant industry consolidation in the three main sectors of the meat industry, the hog, poultry, and cattle sectors, has also occurred rapidly. In other words, there are more animals on each farm. In the United States, the number of hog-producing facilities decreased from 322,600 farms to 98,460 farms from 1988 to 1999 even though overall hog production increased from 90 million hogs to over 121 million hogs. Consolidation in the U.S. broiler industry occurred whereby approximately 12 to 13 million pounds of broilers were produced on approximately 32,000 farms in 1977 but by 1992 approximately 29 million pounds of broilers were produced on approximately 21,000 farms. In the cattle sector, by the end of 1998, the top 30 cattle feedlot operations in the United States had pen space for 4.9 million head of cattle, and the largest ﬁve companies accounted for almost one-third (Kanaly et al. 2010). These socioeconomic changes affect human security in rural populations and thus are part of the overall food security of a community.
Many Hindus and some Buddhists do not accept the consumption of some animals, which highlights the religious differences in the accepted ethics of use of animals. Other religions like Judaism and Islam exclude certain animals and ﬁsh from those that cannot be eaten. The ethics of animal agriculture is a controversial issue that has further been highlighted by the intensiﬁcation of agriculture, yet it is central to food security and environmental sustainability. There are signiﬁcant differences between rich and poor countries in the facilities they can provide for animal housing and transport. The presence of resources and wealth may make our ethical attitudes more generous, not only to human beings in social welfare but also to the environment and animals. We can see this by the growth of animal rights in richer countries. De Waal (1996) considered morality as a ﬂoating pyramid with the buoyancy of the concept determined by the resources available but always with the order from top to bottom: self, family/clan, group/community, tribe/nation, all of humanity, all life forms. The exception, however, is religious prescriptions against killing of animals, seen in Hindu or Buddhist countries or Eastern countries where some parts of nature in religious temples or sanctuaries are preserved despite immediate human needs to harvest them (Macer 1998).
Promoting animal welfare can enhance food security. Some highly selected genetic lines of domestic animal are more sensitive to rough handling, making good transport not only an ethical goal but an economic necessity, as bruised and dead animals mean lost earnings. Some guidelines in rich countries would lead to better conditions for living, and transport for animals, than for the local people. Still poor handling can be improved by simple measures, as long as there is ﬂexibility in implementation, and this is culturally appropriate. There are important values for international guidance in how animal welfare can be improved beyond economic efﬁciency arguments. An initial survey of national practices and values used in animal husbandry, transport, and slaughtering is needed to consider the core ethical values for this area. There are some methods already established for measuring stress that animals suffer (Kanaly et al. 2010). Opportunities for work include how to develop welfare concerns in the move to industrialization and intensiﬁcation of agriculture; global principles to be used for guidelines for protecting animal welfare, in husbandry, transport, slaughtering, and recreation that reﬂect shared human values. While universal guidelines may be difﬁcult, at least a set of principles for humane treatment of animals could be developed. Most issues associated with use of marine mammals were passed to the International Whaling Commission upon its establishment from FAO but are related to ﬁsheries practice. FAO did make effective measures to reduce the accidental catch of birds from ﬁshing lines.
Due to the fact that shifts toward the intensiﬁcation and industrialization of meat production in even the developed countries have not been accompanied by corresponding modernization of regulations to protect public health or adequately address issues related to environmental effects, these operations have resulted in widespread and serious consequences through the convenient externalization of many of their operating costs. Externalization, any action that affects the welfare of or opportunities available to an individual or group without direct payment or compensation, may distort markets by allowing and encouraging activities that are costly to society even if private beneﬁts are large. Evaluation of the external costs arising from the cultivation and raising of the 12 major arable, horticulture, and livestock food commodities produced in the UK showed that livestock production contributed the greatest external costs per kilogram (Kanaly et al. 2010). Investigations into the negative externalities of intensive meat production reveal that they include (1) impacts on global climate change, (2) land degradation and deforestation, (3) water overconsumption and water pollution, (4) loss of biodiversity and loss of local livestock breeds, (5) production and distribution of antibiotic resistant and pathogenic bacteria in the food supply and in communities, (6) release of naturally occurring and synthetic hormones and hormone derivatives into the environment and their accompanying downstream effects, (7) release of ectoparasitides, (8) release and potential accumulation of metals and persistent organic pollutants in soil and sediments and in the food chain, (9) heavy socioeconomic costs that affect the poor and the wealthy, and (10) increase in the risk of potentially devastating regional and global pandemics by spread of disease that come about as a result of the conditions and feed practices of intensive meat-production and animal transportation (Kanaly et al. 2010).
Overall, livestock production results in the release of large quantities of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the form of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide gases, and the amounts of each gas released shall vary by the mode of production and intensity. Comparisons of feedlot and pastoral beef production systems showed that 15 kg of carbon dioxide equivalents per kg of beef were released in feedlot systems and this value represented more than twice the emissions of pastoral systems even though methane gas was released in much greater amounts in pastoral systems due to lower productivity (Kanaly et al. 2010). Reduction of crop production for use in animal feeds in favor of human nutrition represents one of the most efﬁcient measures for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions from the agriculture sector. When calculations for methane and nitrous oxide are included, Goodland and Anhang (2009) of the World Bank released a report that at least 51 % of all GHG emissions are attributable to livestock production.
Land for the livestock sector occupies the largest anthropogenic land use (Steinfeld et al. 2006). Currently, 70 % of all agricultural land and 30 % of the land surface of earth is in use for pastoral, mixed-system, and intensive livestock production, and one of the most serious consequences of this intensive use is soil erosion which diminishes productivity. Intensive production will continue to result in serious environmental impacts due to the imbalances of nutrient inputs and out puts; i.e., the concentration of nutrients originating from large areas of primary production into much smaller areas of animal production invariably results in a large amount of waste due to the inefﬁciencies of nutrient assimilation by animals. Expansion of livestock production is a key factor in deforestation. Through livestock intensiﬁcation and industrialization practices, biodiversity decreases and the consequences include the production of large livestock monocultures. Now such monocultures account for approximately 20 % of the total terrestrial animal biomass worldwide, and this is coupled with the fact that the 30 % of the earth’s land surface that they now occupy was once habitat for other plants and animals (Steinfeld et al. 2006). It must also be considered that intensive production of animals with little genetic diversity and high stocking densities will result in expansive host populations of animals that will be increasingly vulnerable to emergent pathogens newly resistant to pesticides, vaccines, or other critical barriers (Kanaly et al. 2010).
Antibiotics And Food Security
During meat production, broad-spectrum antibiotics are administered to animals at sub therapeutic/nontherapeutic and therapeutic doses to enhance growth and to try to control illness, and these practices result in the creation of antibiotic-resistant and multidrug-resistant bacteria. The administration of antibiotics to farm animals hastens the appearance of antibiotic resistant bacteria in humans and explains that farms with high rates of antibiotic use are evolutionary “incubators” where high levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and multidrug resistant bacteria thrive. It is also known that administration of antibiotics to animals results in contamination of meat by antibiotic-resistant bacteria and directly results in antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections in humans that are a risk to human health. Consequences from the administration of antibiotics to farm animals include
- That antibiotic-resistant pathogenic bacteria are directly transferred to humans by increasing the frequency of antibiotic resistance in zoonotic pathogens such as Salmonella which are typically acquired through exposure to contaminated animal food products.
- That development of antibiotic resistance in human commensal bacteria which ordinarily colonize humans without causing infection may be caused by transfer of antibiotic resistant genes present in bacteria in animals to bacteria in humans.
- When antibiotic-resistant bacteria that do not normally infect humans are ingested by people who are on antibiotic therapy, and thus who have altered human ﬂora, the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria will occur in those persons.
In these cases, the risks to human health are increased.
The waste from millions of animals such as pigs grown in intensive meat production systems is often spread as fertilizers onto nearby agricultural lands, stored in deep pits, or stored in outdoor lagoons and results in large-scale soil, water, and air contamination. As a result of percolation, runoff, and lagoon-breaching during episodic weather events, pathogenic contaminants enter surface waters and groundwater posing threats to human health and the environment. Waterways contaminated with the animal wastes may then serve to disseminate antibiotic-resistant organisms and genes, and such widespread contamination has been documented. Release and potential accumulation of heavy metals in soil, sediments, and the food chain are also concerns that are related to animal intensiﬁcation in that chemicals such as arsenicals, for example, are added to poultry and cattle feed for growth promotion and prevention of parasitic infections. It must also be considered that persistent organic halogenated pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, furans, and DDTs enter the food chain through animal diets in forage and feed which contain large amounts of recycled fat. This system of refeeding of animal-based substances may result in bioaccumulation of halogenated pollutants and cause potential downstream effects. Due to growth in the aquaculture sectors, waste and animal parts from terrestrial intensive meat production is now fed to aquatic species on a larger scale in developed and developing countries.
If we reﬂect on the core ethical values that we need to ensure food security while protecting the ecosystem, we may also need to develop new infrastructures and training to implement sustainable solutions to the underlying causes of the abuses. The main barrier to progress in resolution of ethical dilemmas is the perceived complexity of issues and confusion that ethics equals problems rather than being a positive element to generate new options for advice. These may need to have some more objective criteria for evaluation and monitoring. Based on the ethical principle of beneﬁcence some action should be taken beyond simply advice. The purpose of “ensuring humanity’s freedom from hunger” is an ethical mission that derives from the concept of food security. Some of the issues have been addressed, and we can expect to see continued discussion of the right to food as an ethical and legal issue.
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