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What is Food Morality?

11:18AM Jan 07, 2015

Ethical and moral dilemmas are being used to drive consumers toward alternative food sources

The attacks and negative press keep coming at agriculture, with a particular focus on animal agriculture.

Many of the threats come from activist groups with little knowledge of the industry. But they’ve altered their argument against agriculture with ethical and moral dilemmas to drive consumers toward alternative food sources.

Kevin Murphy, founder of Food-Chain Communications, LLC, says organizations and companies are creating these dilemmas to push forward their causes—often  for financial gain.

The “Food Morality Movement” is a group of people working together, either wittingly or unwittingly, to denounce modern farming and food production system based on religion, ethics and morality.

“Radical ideology gains little traction with the public,” Murphy says, “but activists are masking that ideology in religious, ethical and moral appeals.”

Murphy shares some of the viewpoints farmers and ranchers hear from the food morality movement:

  • “Our willingness to subject animals to unjustified suffering will be seen as Bentham/Mill thought, as a form of unconscionable barbarity, not the same as but morally akin to slavery and the mass extermination of human beings,” said Cass Sunstein, a former Obama administration regulator and current Harvard Law School professor.
  • “At least here in America, it is worth noting that no moral cause ever got very far that could not speak of religious conviction, drawing on the deeper sensibilities that guide public opinion even in our more secular era,” wrote Matthew Scully, in the book Dominion, The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy.
  • “Compassion for farm animals is the great moral calling of our time,” said Gene Baur, Farm Sanctuary, quoting the Washington Post.    

In addition to these radical views, farmers and ranchers have to fight against the ways food retailers are marketing their products.

Murphy says Chipotle serves a burrito that is as big as your head while also trying to serve “food with integrity.”

Chick-fil-A isn’t just famous for its chicken sandwiches; it has also received praise for expressing Christian beliefs by not serving food on Sundays. But those Christian beliefs have gotten the company in hot water after the owners expressed concerns with same-sex marriage.

In the past, businesses did not get involved in moral conversations for fear of offending customers. Now. they’re trying to profit by aligning themselves with the food morality movement.

Agricultural companies, such as Tyson Foods and Perdue Chicken have both debuted hormone- and antibiotic-free chicken products under the premise the product is better for consumers.

Murphy believes livestock producers are ill-equipped to talk about moral or ethical dilemmas. Too often, he says, farmers resort to science-based arguments.

Farmers need to speak in more emotional terms to describe how they care for their livestock, their farms and their families, he says. They also need to make more connections and “start to look for ways to influence influencers,” such grocery stores and quick serve restaurants. 

For more information on the food morality movement checkout