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Ethical eating or food ethics refers to the moral consequences of food choices, both those made by humans for themselves and those made for food animals. Common concerns are damage to the environment, exploitive labor practices, food shortages for others, inhumane treatment of food animals, and the unintended effects of food policy. Ethical eating is a type of ethical consumerism.
Certain methods of food production and certain types of foods have greater environmental impacts than others. The Union of Concerned Scientists advises that avoiding eating beef is one of the two most important actions most people can take to help the environment 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. 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".
Packaging of commercially produced foods is also an area of concern, because of the environmental impact of both the production of the packaging and the disposal of the packaging.
Transportation of commercially produced foods can increase that food's impact on the environment.
Within the food system there are many low-paid occupations. Many farm workers are paid below-minimum wages or work in substandard conditions, especially farm workers in developing countries and migrant workers in industrialized nations. Jobs within food processing  catering and food retailing are also often poorly paid and sometimes hazardous.
Distribution of wealth
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. Campaign to reduce levels of food imports, however, may reduce the incomes of farmers in poorer countries, who rely on export sales.
Since the 1950s, the food system has become increasingly global and a small number of multi-national corporations now dominate trade in many foodstuffs. One result is that the proportion of industrially processed foods in diets is increasing globally. Public health researchers label these changes the nutrition transition, arguing that, in poorer countries, they are causing increasing rates of non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes.
Food animal treatment
Many food animals are raised inhumanely.
Many governmental food policies have unintended consequences.
Specific food choices
Some ethicists argue that the keeping and killing of animals for human consumption is in itself unethical. 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."
The method in which food animals are raised and the type of food animal affect the ethics of eating that animal. Farm-raised oysters cause minimal environmental damage and are raised humanely.
Dairy and eggs
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 inhumanely.
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.
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.
Some critics of the food ethics movement argue that parsing the various concerns is futile.
Fairtrade International, the certifying body for Fair Trade products, has been accused of "misleading consumers about its ability to monitor production practices" 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."
Areas of agreement
Most food ethicists agree that some food choices are more ethical than others.
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