Press Release 06/2011

Ethics Council spotlights feeding the world

The Ethics Council invited prominent speakers, for example Vandana Shiva, winner of the Alternative Nobel Peace Prize, Hans Rudolf Herren, President of the Millennium Institute in Arlington and Thomas Pogge, Professor of Philosophy at Yale University, to discuss the topic of feeding the world population and the associated ethical challenges.

Over 400 participants, including 140 secondary school students, came to the third Annual Meeting of the German Ethics Council in Berlin on 26 May 2011, showing the great public interest in this topic.

Globally, over one billion people are hungry, and every day thousands die of the consequences of malnutrition, although every year enough food is produced to feed the world's population. 70 per cent of food is produced on small farms, but at the same time half of the people working there suffer malnutrition and hunger. The causes of hunger are many and varied. They include poverty and the lack of rights to own and use land, unfair trade conditions, climate changes, destruction of the environment, wars and corruption.

The topic of the Ethics Council's Annual Meeting, starting from the present situation, was to show the need for action on feeding the world and to develop the ethical implications of this. Central aspects were poverty orientation, the role of women in agriculture, and nutrition and sustainability. Approaches were suggested to overcome the problem of hunger and poverty and documented in practical examples from German development aid projects by Brot für die Welt, Misereor, Welthungerhilfe and the Indian organization Navdanya.

The papers and discussion contributions made it clear that poverty and malnutrition cannot easily be overcome by increasing the flow of funds from north to south and thus creating and maintaining dependency. Instead, it is necessary to stimulate local economic development by way of helping people to help themselves, making the populations of the countries affected by poverty independent of foreign aid. Offers of help should therefore be directed towards giving people access to natural resources, to production capital and to the market, but also to education and research, and in this way enabling them to share in economic growth and thus in the value chain.

Hans-Jürgen Beerfeltz, State Secretary in the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, conceded that the agricultural export subsidies of the Europeans, including Germany, had not merely hindered, but actually prevented development policy. These subsidies, he said, must therefore be phased out, and all development policy actions must be based on sustainability and responsibility.

Vandana Shiva repeatedly criticized international trade regulations, in particular those of the World Trade Organization (WTO), saying they had a detrimental effect on developing countries and in particular on the production of food by small farmers. She said that the citizens of all countries were called upon to support fair trade conditions and also to demand them in the exercise of their democratic rights.

The question which recurred in all panel discussions as to what the individual and in particular young people could do not only to think globally but also to act locally was answered unanimously to the effect that civic commitment and in particular informed consumer behaviour by every individual can contribute to establishing fair trade partnerships.

The individual contributions can be accessed here.