Ethical eating

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Ethical eating or food ethics refers to the moral consequences[1][2] of food choices, both those made by humans and animals. Common concerns are damage to the environment,[3] exploitive labor practices, food shortages for others, inhumane treatment of food animals, and the unintended effects of food policy.[4] Ethical eating is a type of ethical consumerism.



Cattle grazing in Texas

The extent of environmental impacts depends on the methods of food production and types of food. The Union of Concerned Scientists advises that avoiding eating beef may potentially help the environment,[5] because of the large amounts of water needed to produce beef, the pollution from fecal, ammonia, carbon dioxide and methane waste associated with raising cows, the physical damage from grazing, and the destruction of wildlife habitat and rainforests to produce land for grazing.[5] Industrially produced meat, such as that from animals raised in Confined Animal Feeding Operations or CAFOs, has "the greatest impact of any food product on the environment".[3]

Packaging of commercially produced foods is also an area of concern,[3] because of the environmental impact of both the production of the packaging and the disposal of the packaging.

Transportation of commercially produced goods can influence the environmental impact of the food products.[3]

Labor practices[edit]

Within the food system there are many low-paid occupations. Many farm workers are paid below-minimum wages[6] or work in substandard conditions, especially farm workers in developing countries and migrant workers in industrialized nations. Jobs within food processing [7] catering[8] and food retailing[9] are also often poorly paid and sometimes hazardous.

Distribution of wealth[edit]

Since the 1980s, policies promoting global free trade have increased the amount of food exported from poorer countries, which may adversely affect the food available for their own populations.[10] Campaign to reduce levels of food imports, however, may reduce the incomes of farmers in poorer countries, who rely on export sales.[11]

Food availability[edit]

Since the 1970s, the food system has become increasingly global and a small number of multi-national corporations now dominate trade in many food products.[12] One result is that the proportion of industrially processed foods in diets is increasing globally.[13]

Animal welfare[edit]

The welfare of animals who are farmed for food is considered a major source of concern, especially when they are farmed intensively, which can lead to negative welfare outcomes.[14]


Many governmental food policies have unintended consequences.[citation needed]

Specific food choices[edit]

Take a Bite Out Of Climate Change flashcards


Free-range pigs grazing at Polyface Farm, which promotes 'more sustainable' methods of animal husbandry.

Some ethicists argue that the keeping and killing of animals for human consumption is in itself unethical.[15][16] Others point out that animal husbandry is "essential to sustainable farms, which don't rely on fossil fuels and chemicals," rather using animal waste as fertilizer and animal activity as weed and pest control and using animals to "convert vegetation that's inedible to humans, and growing on marginal, uncultivated land, into food."[1][17]

The method in which food animals are raised and the type of food animal affect the ethics of eating that animal. Farm-raising is a method of raising food animals with lesser environmental impacts.[18]

Dairy and eggs[edit]

Dairy and egg production have ethical consequences, in particular in large-scale industrialized production. Chickens and milk-animals raised in industrial operations are often treated less fairly for commercial purposes.

Small-scale production of eggs, such as by backyard chicken raisers and small diversified farms raising pastured birds or milk-animals, are less ethically fraught but still create some issues for ethicists.


Industrial fishing has broad effects with ethical consequences. An example is nutrient and chemical pollution. [1]


Some foods produced in developing countries are exported in quantities that threaten the ability of local residents to affordably obtain their traditional foods. Western demand for quinoa, a traditional food in Bolivia Peru and Ecuador, has become so high that producers are eating significantly less of the grain, preferring to sell it for import instead and sparking concerns about malnutrition.[19]


Some critics of the food ethics movement argue that parsing the various concerns is futile.[1]

Fairtrade International, the certifying body for Fair Trade products, has been accused of "misleading consumers about its ability to monitor production practices"[6] and giving Fairtrade certification to at least one coffee association despite the fact they were "illegally growing some 20 per cent of its coffee in protected national forest land."[6]


  1. ^ a b c "Put Your Ethics Where Your Mouth Is". New York Times. Retrieved August 13, 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ "ETHICAL EATING: FOOD AND ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE". Unitarian Universalist Association. 2014-10-30. Retrieved August 13, 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ a b c d Newcomer, Laura (August 24, 2012). "33 Ways to Eat Environmentally Friendly". Time. Retrieved August 15, 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ "2011 Statement of Conscience". Unitarian Universalist Association. 2011-08-24. Retrieved August 13, 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ a b Boyan, Steve. "How Our Food Choices can Help Save the Environment". EarthSave. Retrieved August 15, 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  6. ^ a b c Weitzman, Hal (2006-09-08). "The bitter cost of 'fair trade' coffee". Financial Times. Retrieved August 15, 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  7. ^ Broadway, Michael J.; Stull, Donald D. (2010-04-26). "The Wages of Food Factories". Food and Foodways. 18 (1–2): 43–65. doi:10.1080/07409711003708413. ISSN 0740-9710.
  8. ^ Woolever, Laurie (2012-03-22). "High-End Food, Low-Wage Labor". Dissent. 59 (2): 26–32. doi:10.1353/dss.2012.0036. ISSN 1946-0910. PMID 22834046.
  9. ^ Lichtenstein, Nelson (2005-01-01). "Wal-Mart and the New World Order: A Template for Twenty-First Century Capitalism?". New Labor Forum. 14 (1): 20–30. JSTOR 40342518.
  10. ^ Brigham, Anne Margrethe (2011-11-01). "Agricultural Exports and Food Insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Qualititative Configurational Analysis". Development Policy Review. 29 (6): 729–748. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7679.2011.00554.x. ISSN 1467-7679.
  11. ^ Vidal, John; editor, environment (2007-10-25). "Air-freight food must pass fair trade test to retain organic label in future". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-02-21.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  12. ^ Lang, Tim (2003-09-01). "Food Industrialisation and Food Power: Implications for Food Governance". Development Policy Review. 21 (5–6): 555–568. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8659.2003.00223.x. hdl:10535/6192. ISSN 1467-7679.
  13. ^ Kearney, John (2010-09-27). "Food consumption trends and drivers". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 365 (1554): 2793–2807. doi:10.1098/rstb.2010.0149. ISSN 0962-8436. PMC 2935122. PMID 20713385.
  14. ^ Madzingira, Oscar (2018-09-26). "Animal Welfare Considerations in Food-Producing Animals". Animal Welfare. doi:10.5772/intechopen.78223.
  15. ^ Zevnik, Neil (January 26, 2015). "The Humane Omnivore: An Oxymoron?". The Huffington Post. Retrieved August 13, 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  16. ^ Pilgrim, Karyn (2013-05-01). "'Happy Cows,' 'Happy Beef': A Critique of the Rationales for Ethical Meat". Environmental Humanities. 3 (1): 111–127. doi:10.1215/22011919-3611257. ISSN 2201-1919.
  17. ^ Niman, Nicolette Hahn (December 20, 2011). "Eating Animals". The Atlantic. Retrieved August 13, 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  18. ^ Cox, Christopher (April 7, 2010). "It's Okay for Vegans to Eat Oysters". Slate. Retrieved August 13, 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  19. ^ Collyns, Dan (January 14, 2013). "Quinoa brings riches to the Andes". The Guardian. Retrieved August 13, 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)

Further reading[edit]