Johns Hopkins Gazette: October 27, 1997

Forum Reflects On
Consumption Atop
The Food Chain

Center for Livable Future
holds first conference

Phil Sneiderman
News and Information

At first glance, the topics seem to have little in common: healthier diets, a cleaner environment, wider distribution of the food resources and more humane treatment of animals.

Yet an upcoming conference at Hopkins will weave together all these threads, with the goal of preserving a more "livable" world for future generations. Specifically, the three-day gathering will examine some of the environmental and social problems posed by current eating habits in affluent nations.

The event has attracted a distinguished lineup of speakers, including Peter Singer, an internationally known animal rights scholar, and two Nobel Prize-winning scientists, Henry W. Kendall and F. Sherwood Rowland.

Organizers of this first colloquium sponsored by Hopkins' Center for a Livable Future fear that the increasing consumption of meat in wealthier nations is leading to a rise in related health problems. At the same time, they say, feeding livestock to produce meat uses up grain that could be used to feed malnourished people around the world. Finally, organizers say, many of the "factory farms" that produce meat are harming the environment and exploiting animals unnecessarily.

To explore these complex problems and look for solutions, the center has invited researchers and students from Hopkins' Homewood and East Baltimore campuses, along with other interested community members, to attend the free colloquium titled "Equity, Health and the World's Resources: Food Security and Social Justice." It will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, Nov. 3 and 4, and 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 5, in the auditorium of the Thomas B. Turner Building on the East Baltimore campus.

"It's an ambitious agenda, but we believe the stakes are enormous," said Robert S. Lawrence, director of the center. "We hope to finish the conference with a consensus statement outlining what we can do about these problems right away."

Lawrence, who is associate dean of professional education and programs at Hopkins' School of Public Health, helped found the center about a year and a half ago. According to its literature, the group is seeking to "mobilize a global community of scientists, nutritionists, public health experts, political scientists and others to change current practices that threaten sustainability" of the world's limited resources.

Toward this goal, the center has assembled a distinguished group of Hopkins faculty advisers from the schools of Public Health, Medicine, Engineering and Arts and Sciences, along with the Applied Physics Laboratory. These scholars represent fields as diverse as economics, earth and planetary sciences, anthropology, population dynamics and environmental engineering.

In early discussions, Lawrence said, the center's organizers shared their concerns that people in the United States and other affluent nations "were eating very high on the food chain." The reference was to the increasing consumption of animal protein, from hamburgers and steak to chicken and pork chops.

Beyond the health hazards associated with a meat-heavy diet, Lawrence said, the process of raising livestock to support this diet triggers additional problems. Livestock farms consume large amounts of land, water and other natural resources, he said, and these businesses often cause serious environmental damage related to waste disposal, the use of pesticides and other practices. In addition, he said, the animals themselves eat an enormous amount of grain that instead could be diverted to some of the 2 billion malnourished people worldwide. About seven kilograms of grain are needed to produce just one kilogram of beef, he said.

The problems will grow worse, Lawrence suggested, as more nations move toward this model of food consumption, straining the world's limited natural resources. "This is an unsustainable system," he said. "We're trying to point out that this reliance on animal protein is incompatible with food security in the world. It also leads to environmental problems and raises questions about the humane treatment of animals."

To examine aspects of this complex problem, the center has already conducted five faculty seminars. Next week's colloquium will be its first large educational gathering and its first to include notable speakers from outside Hopkins.

These visiting experts will include the Hon. Flora MacDonald, a former Canadian cabinet minister; T. Colin Campbell, a professor of nutritional biochemistry from Cornell University; Andrew Rowan, senior vice president of the Humane Society of the United States; Philip J. Landrigan, chairman of community medicine at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York; and Uma Lele, an adviser on environmentally sustainable development for the World Bank.

The conference will also feature presentations by Singer, a professor at the Centre for Human Bioethics at Monash University in Australia, and the two Nobel Prize recipients. Rowland, a University of California at Irvine professor, was recognized for identifying aerosol spray gases as a threat to the Earth's ozone layer. Kendall, an MIT professor who chairs the Union of Concerned Scientists, was honored for his work in confirming the existence tiny particles of matter called quarks.

When the colloquium concludes, its organizers hope to have accomplished several things.

"One of our goals is to engage the university community to consider areas of consensus that we can translate into policies for change," Lawrence said. "We also want to identify gaps in our knowledge about these problems, then develop some research priorities to address these gaps. Finally, we want to come up with our best stategy for actions that we can take now, while awaiting the resulting of that additional research."

Organizers of the colloquium plan to summarize the information presented at this event in a detailed report that should be ready for distribution within the next few months.

Faculty Advisers
For The Center
For A Livable

Robert S. Lawrence, Director
Associate Dean, Professional Education and Programs
School of Public Health

Polly Walker

Stan Becker
Associate Professor, Population Dynamics
School of Public Health

John J. Boland
Professor, Geography and Environmental Engineering
School of Engineering

Grace S. Brush
Professor, Geography and Environmental Engineering
School of Engineering

Thomas A. Burke
Co-director, Risk Sciences and Public Policy Institute
School of Public Health

Benjamin Caballero
Director, Division of Nutrition, International Health
School of Public Health

J. Hugh Ellis
Chair, Geography and Environmental Engineering
School of Engineering

George W. Fisher
Professor, Earth and Planetary Sciences
School of Arts and Sciences

Alan M. Goldberg
Associate Dean, Corporate Affairs
School of Public Health
Director, Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing

John D. Groopman
Chair, Environmental Health Sciences
School of Public Health

Richard L. Humphrey
Associate Professor, Medicine, Pathology and Oncology
School of Medicine

George J. Jakab
Professor, Environmental Health Sciences
School of Public Health

M. Ali Khan
Abram G. Hutzler Professor of Economics
School of Arts and Sciences

Sharon S. Krag
Associate Dean, Graduate Education and Research
School of Public Health

Robert A. Makofski
Assistant Director of Development
Applied Physics Laboratory

Genevieve M. Matanoski
Professor, Epidemiology
School of Public Health

Sidney Mintz
William L. Strauss Professor of Anthropology
School of Arts and Sciences

Jonathan A. Patz
Director, Program on Health Effects of Global Environmental Change
School of Public Health

Charles A. Rohde
Chair Emeritus, Biostatistics
School of Public Health

Carl E. Taylor
Chair Emeritus, International Health
School of Public Health

M. Gordon Wolman
Chair Emeritus, Geography and Environmental Engineering
School of Engineering

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