By Risti Permani, Global Food Studies, University of Adelaide.
On my recent flight from Adelaide to the Southeast Asian region, I found an interesting article “Finished with Fins at Starwood” published by travel3Sixty, AirAsia’s travel magazine. The article reported that the international hotel chain Starwood Hotels and Resorts announced a total ban on shark fin dishes across its 1,200 hotels around the world. At a glance, there doesn’t seem to be any correlation between their ‘sustainable food policy’ (whatever this actually means) and the food security definition set by the FAO.
But, is there any correlation?
Along with increasing income of the global population, there is a quite consistent trend in increased interests in healthy and ethically-sourced food. Global Food Studies’ research in Australia also points at this direction. Whilst we know what the general trend is, it is still not well-understood what ‘sustainable’, ‘ethically-sourced’ means. Do they overlap with the term ‘organic’? Also important:
has the food security concept that we have generally agreed captured this aspect? and who should be responsible for ensuring such ‘standards’ are being met?
Going back the shark fin ban by the hotel chain, it is clear that the target of such a program is to ‘educate’ consumers. This approach could be driven by the absence of regulations targeting the marketing of such products and therefore protecting consumers despite a number of studies suggesting the adverse health effects of consuming shark fin soup. Various organisations have distributed information about the adverse environmental impact of ‘shark finning’, which is considered to be a form of animal cruelty.
One thing that came across my mind when reading the article was that whilst the food security concept is quite consumer-centred, we have not ‘formally’ incorporated ethics in food production in our food security concept despite a number of studies addresing the links between these two aspects.
It is widely accepted that food security programs attempt to provide the supply of food that is sufficient, safe, nutritious and able to meet individual preferences. Conditions when people have access to ‘ethically sourced’ food might be included in the last aspect i.e. individual preferences.
But it is not clear whether the availability of ethically-sourced food or production that meets animal welfare standards is a condition or at least, one of the key indicators that food security has been achieved. This lack of clarity remains despite various public and private programs across the world that have been introduced to improve animal welfare standards. The existing Global Food Security Index for example which covers affordability, availability and quality and safety aspects have not included such an aspect.
The importance of considering ethics in food production in food policies is not only due to increasing demand from animal welfare-concious consumers but also animal welfare’s potential links with the quantity, quality and sustainability of food production systems- all are key components of the food security. Those impacts on food production can then impact smallholder’s income and human’s health outcomes. For example, according to Bahari (2013) , bruised chicken meat due to poor transportation standards, is more prone to microbial contamination. Animals stressed prior to slaughter also tend to be prone to microbial spoilage.
One global challenge is to set clear and realistic goals and to structure a governance to better address animal welfare issues such that efficient food production systems, which are required to achieve food security, is not in conflict with animal welfare. One specific question in regard to structuring the governance is whether there is rationale for government interventions taking into account the potential costs and benefits of setting regulatory frameworks to address this issue. Australia, in particular, can play a leadership role in addressing this challenge given its extensive experience and detailed research on issues related to animal welfare and ethics in food production.
*This article expresses my personal views