In support of an ethical agriculture based on organic principles.  By Lorenzo Sasso

In support of an ethical agriculture based on organic principles. By Lorenzo Sasso

There are several reasons for which agriculture has become an issue of moral concern in the current debate. First, there is a mismatch between global food supplies and human nutritional needs. Agribusiness has a strong impact on rural employment. Furthermore, modern agricultural biotechnologies have consequences for human and animal welfare. Finally, intensive production systems have effects on the sustainability of the global environment. The way we are going to organize the food and agriculture system, direct the production, transformation and distribution of food and other agricultural goods touch spheres that are inherently of ethical concern. This also explains why agriculture has become a matter of public policy. Several most controversial discussed issues in the realm of agriculture as highlighted by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) are: Sustainable Agriculture, Animal Well-fare and Livestock Husbandry, Patenting and Ethics in Intellectual Property in food and agriculture and Ethical Issues in Agricultural Research.

Agricultural ethics shall be understood as an emerging discipline which is principally concerned with ethical issues in agriculture relevant to public policy aiming at implementing (or devising) a coherent and unified ethical framework, which is relevant to the formulation of public policy within the context of a social contract. This discipline benefits from moral philosophy, which is focusing on solving practical questions which arise from everyday life. Therefore, it is essential to refer to intuitive beliefs and well-established moral principles as the cornerstone of an ethical debate and philosophical analysis. For instance, food and agricultural products are vital to human survival. Agriculture’s biological basis is assimilation. Accordingly, the use of extensive fertile land areas, fresh-water and essential nutrients, is inevitable in agricultural production. Food production is an organic process, which depends on the exploitation of living resources and therefore it depends on stable environment and ecosystem. Unlike most other industrial activities, agriculture’s impact permeates our physical, social and cultural environment and is likely to do so more and more in the foreseeable future. Hence, a social contract with respect to agriculture is essential for every society. Ideally, this contract regulates the sufficient supply of safe and nutritious food at prices affordable to all. Additionally, the contract has to take into account the public’s awareness with regard to the treatment of animals and the environment, the working conditions of farm workers and others who are involved in agricultural production and the national economy. Since agriculture is globally conceptualized and public policies are intervolving, policies and their consequences have to be thoroughly thought through not only at the national but also the international level. Agricultural ethics’ role in this debate is not to determine such national and international policies but to serve as a means of assessing whether specific proposed policies are ethically acceptable. Sustainable agriculture as a normative concept has been developed to provide a reasonable starting point of ethical consideration. It is composed of three pillars: economic, environmental and social also known informally as profits, planet and people. It encompasses some moral intuitions such as intergenerational justice, sensible use of resources, the “do-not-harm principle” and so forth. Its importance stems from the exploitative use of resources on which agriculture depends, combined with the belief that the life and well-being of most human beings depend on agricultural production.

Organic agriculture can contribute to meaningful socio-economic and ecologically sustainable development. In fact, organic agriculture sustains and enhances the health of soil, plant, animal and human as one and indivisible. It is based on living ecological systems and cycles, work with them, emulate them and help sustain them. Organic agriculture provides advantages for each and every party involved in the market. Through a certification system of quality, the governments can facilitate the creation of training programs and quality assurance systems. These systems certify producers based on active participation of all stakeholders and are built on a foundation of trust, social networks and knowledge exchange. Organic certification standards can make agricultural products more tradable because consumers in globalized markets will perceive them as closest to their best quality local products. For this reason, consumers are generally ready to pay a higher price and develop a fair organic trade. However, promoting ethical agriculture can also benefit non-certified agribusiness based on the organic principles, because it provides the country with an alternative development strategy for local sustainable communities and food security.

 By Lorenzo Sasso 

  • Cardinal Paul Poupard Foundation
  • RANEPA
  • UBI Banca
  • The “Life Line” Charitable Fund
  • The Association of Russian Banks (ARB)
  • Russian Union of Industrialists and Enterpreneurs (RSPP)
  • Moscow association of businessmen