Public Health and Community Well-being

Food can be a source of good health and well-being for individuals, families, and communities.  Food is pleasurable, and making and sharing food is a cornerstone of family life.  But food can also be a source of ill health. Consumption of food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites, and chemical substances makes 10% of the global population ill each year.  Food consumption patterns are also the main cause of overweight, obesity, and other diet-related illnesses.  Food production can also pose risks to the health and well-being of communities.
All of us have a stake in our collective public health. Poor public health has economic and social costs, including productivity losses, health care costs, and the financial and personal costs of caretaking.  Some ethicists argue that we owe it to each other to collectively protect public ​health, and that a just society is one in which we collectively embrace agricultural and eating practices that support public health. 

However, it is not feasible for agricultural or eating practices to be risk-free, nor is this necessarily desirable, since there are trade-offs between health and other goals. Nonetheless, some production practices exceed an acceptable level of risk to the health of workers, communities, and the public.  Similarly, risks of foodborne illness that exceed certain thresholds are ethically unacceptable. When it comes to dietary patterns that contribute to overweight, obesity, and chronic illness, the ethics are much more complex because they pose vexing questions about whether unhealthy foods should be considered “less ethical,” and whether foods that cause significant threats to public health should be considered “unethical.”