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in food and

The production, transformation and distribution of food and agricultural products are generally accepted as routine aspects of daily life around the world. Therefore, such activities have rarely been addressed within the realm of ethics. But food and agriculture, and the economic benefits that derive from participation in the food and agriculture system, are means to ends that are inherently ethical in nature. Only on a few occasions has FAO considered ethical values, although they are embedded in the preamble to the Organization's Constitution (see Box). Without these ethical values, the most important of which are considered below, FAO would have little reason to exist.

The value of food. Food is essential for the survival of human beings; hunger results from neglect of the universal right to food. Both formal ethical systems and ethical practices in every society presume the necessity of providing those who are able-bodied with the means to obtain food and enabling those who are unable to feed themselves to receive food directly. Failure to do so is deemed an injustice, an unethical act, whereas the elimination of hunger and malnutrition is deemed beneficent. Several international documents proclaim the validity of this well-established principle, among them the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the Rome Declaration on World Food Security (1996).

The value of enhanced well-being. Today, nearly every nation state recognizes the need to enhance the well-being of its citizens. Such improvements in well-being also advance human dignity and self-respect. While charity is sometimes necessary to respond to desperate and pressing situations, it cannot provide for long-term improvements in well-being, which can only be accomplished by providing people with access to skills, capital, employment, education and opportunities. In addition, for sustainable agriculture and rural development to flourish, a viable rural infrastructure must be in place, together with an enabling policy environment.

The value of human health. Human health is improved by the elimination of hunger and malnutrition. Healthy people are more able to participate in human affairs and more able to live productive and meaningful lives. Furthermore, the protection of human health also involves ensuring adequate nutrition and safeguards against unsafe food. On both of these points, nations are agreed - as members of the World Health Organization (WHO Constitution, 1946) and the Codex Alimentarius Commission (1963).

Excerpt from the Preamble to FAO's 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 towards an expanding world economy and ensuring humanity's freedom from hunger;

hereby establish the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations ...

The value of natural resources. All human societies recognize the importance of atural world that are used to produce food and other valued goods and which are necessary for our survival and prosperity. Clearly, no particular use of such resources should undermine the other le-gitimate uses to which they might be put, now or in the future. In particular, no current use should condemn our progeny to endless toil or deprivation.

The value of nature. Finally, there is growing agreement that nature itself must be valued. As our power to modify nature grows, there is also an increasing recognition of the beauty, complexity and integrity of nature, and of the limits to humans' restructuring of the natural world. The Convention on Biological Diversity (1992) not only recognizes the value that may be placed on particular organisms; it also acknowledges, as do countless cultures, that nature itself is to be valued for what it is.

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To sum up, these values define in part who we are and what we should do and, while different cultures may vary in their interpretation of them, all agree as to their importance. The values in question are by no means new, and they are also central to FAO's mission. So why is it that they are again the subject of dialogue and debate? Why is it that FAO feels obliged to raise the issue of ethics in food and agriculture?

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