For the first time, the development of the food and agriculture sector is being conceptualized globally - as indeed it must be
- FAO /19822/R. FAIDUTTI
In recent years food and agriculture have undergone major changes, including rapid technological advances, a restructuring of the resource base, the creation of new and expanded international markets, and closer ties with environmental management. For the first time, the development of the food and agriculture sector is being conceptualized globally - as indeed it must be. A fiscal crisis in Asia may depress farm prices in North America. A crop failure in Latin America may raise prices in Africa, while an exceptionally bountiful harvest may have the reverse effect, leaving surpluses in granaries unsold. Environmental pollution in one nation may reduce timber yields in another. A food-borne disease originating in one farmer's field may wreak havoc in several continents.
As a result of these developments, all societies have some point of convergence with one another. A tractor built in North America can be used to cultivate a field in Central Asia. A poultry processing plant in Brazil will be much the same as one in Thailand. Conformity to Codex Alimentarius standards is becoming de facto mandatory as a result of the formation of the World Trade Organization. In virtually every large city on earth, it is possible to buy pizza made with similar ingredients, eat at a "fast food" restaurant and drink the same bottled soft drinks. Shipping containers, pallets, food packages and air cargo planes are all tending towards uniformity as world trade increases.
Yet the new technologies, institutions, business practices, marketing systems and intellectual property rights that are available globally cannot be considered neutral in cultural terms. They challenge age-old and deeply held values and, in particular, the new technologies and institutions often carry with them hidden assumptions. These include specific (usually Western) definitions of private property rights, a bias against common property resources, an emphasis on individual initiative rather than respect for family or community traditions, greater attention to formal contracts, protection against the worst excesses of monopolies and even a knowledge of English.
In Western nations, where technological change and market-oriented operations are widely accepted, value differences have emerged for a range of issues, including animal welfare, genetically modified foods, use of designations of origins, and acceptable levels of economic concentration in the food and agriculture system. In some other nations, "free" markets are a recent advent. In nations where the charging of interest is considered illegitimate or the person or entity with whom one trades is more important than the price, the new global economy has met with considerable resistance. Moreover, throughout the world, fair representation and the expression of public opinion are thwarted: the least developed nations have neither the funds nor the expertise to participate meaningfully in global debates and, even in Western nations, a significant portion of the population remains disenfranchised, as evidenced by the recent demonstrations in Seattle and Geneva.
Insofar as all these changes bring with them the potential for conflict and social upheaval, they have brought to the fore numerous ethical issues that are central to food security, sustainable rural development and resource management as well as to the trade-offs among these objectives. The resolution of issues raised demands reflection, dialogue and action.
This paper 1 addresses ethical questions as they relate to FAO's mandate. First, the values central to food and agriculture are identified. Following this, the current situation is examined and specific issues are analysed. It is then argued that the balancing of interests and the peaceful resolution of conflicts should be common global goals. The last section describes a vision for building an ethical, efficient and safe world food and agriculture framework that is equitable and solidary and that respects the diversity of value systems.
1 A draft version of this paper was made available to the Panel of Eminent Experts on Ethics on Food and Agriculture during its first session in September 2000.