Past Projects

Beef, Food Choices, and values

Identifying ways to shift the consumption of beef in the United States in order to support planetary and human health

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The Beef Choices and Ethics Tool is an aid for ethically assessing policies and interventions intended to reduce beef consumption in the United States. It can be used to assess a wide range of policies and interventions, including: governmental laws, public policies and regulations; institutional policies and programs; and initiatives by non-profit organizations.


Beef has negative impacts on human health and the environment. Red meat – especially processed red meat – is linked to increases in non-communicable diseases like cancer and cardiovascular disease. Raising cattle and producing beef products has a larger negative effect on the environment than other foods that come from animals.

The demand for beef is likely to increase dramatically – by up to 95% – as the global population increases and incomes rise around the world. To meet this demand, cattle production will have to increase from 1.5 billion cattle to over 2.6 billion. Rising demand and increased production will create more challenges for human health and environmental sustainability.


This project examined how shifts in beef consumption and production can deal with these challenges in the United States. We aimed to identify ethically acceptable ways to shift beef production and consumption that improve human and environmental health.

Beef production and consumption have many positive associations for people and their communities. Many people like the taste of beef, and eating beef also has cultural and social value. For ranchers and their communities, beef is economically important. Raising cattle is also at the heart of some people’s cultural identity and way of life.

Beef contributes to health and environmental problems, but people like to eat it for many reasons. With this in mind, are there ethically acceptable ways to shift beef consumption and production in the United States?


  1. Identify the values, trade-offs, and trigger points for potential shifts in beef production and consumption practices
  2. Identify the relevant considerations and trade-offs of different policies and interventions to alter beef production and consumption practices
  3. Develop a framework to evaluate the ethical permissibility of different interventions to achieve shifts in beef production and consumption patterns


Dr. Jessica Fanzo led the Beef, Food Choices, and Values team, bringing together experts from a wide range of disciplines. Drs. Elizabeth Fox and Shauna Downs led the team’s empirical research efforts. Drs. Anne Barnhill and Travis Rieder headed the group’s ethical analyses. Colleagues at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia oversaw the team’s modelling work.


Fox, E. L., Davis, C., Downs, S. M., McLaren, R., & Fanzo, J. (2021). A focused ethnographic study on the role of health and sustainability in food choice decisionsAppetite, 105319.

Conflict and Water Resources

This research examined the short- and long-term impacts of conflict on protracted hunger, nutrition, and food rights and justice issues. Our research also addressed the ethical challenges to food and nutrition security in the context of social discrimination and inequity. Most of this work focused on low- and middle-income countries (e.g., semi-arid lands in northern Kenya).

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Understanding and addressing moral dilemmas of sedentarisation of pastoralists: Practical ethics of mitigating conflict amongst water and food resource constrained populations in the Northern Kenya Semi-Arid Lands

Principal InvestigatorJessica Fanzo, PhD, Principal Investigator, Director, Global Food Ethics and Policy Program, Bloomberg Distinguished Associate Professor, Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics & SAISCo-investigatorElizabeth Fox, former Hecht-Levi Fellow, Berman Institute of Bioethics, Johns Hopkins University

Pastoralists (i.e., nomads who raise livestock on natural pastures) in North-Eastern Kenya experienced significant difficulties in preserving their traditional livelihoods due to numerous factors, including population pressure and climate change-induced environmental stresses. One way of dealing with these difficulties has been to settle pastoralists. This project aimed to better understand the ethical dilemmas posed by government policies of “sedentarisation” in the context of traditional pastoralist practices of transhumance in order to obtain food and water for themselves and their animals.

We studied two groups, the Borana Oromo and the Somali, to better understand how two large, but different, ethnic groups respond to the challenge of sedentarisation and compare how their specific cultural practices and traditional livelihoods facilitate adjustment to climate change in accessing two key resources – food and water. Using Participatory Action Research as an overarching approach, we used methods including Geographic Information Systems, e-mobile technology, semi-quantitative ethnographic surveys with photovoice, key informant interviews, and focus groups to:

(1) identify the constraints, conflicts, and trade-offs of three types of pastoralist livelihoods – sedentary, semi-nomadic, and nomadic – within the Borana and Somali ethnic populations;

(2) develop a guiding framework of ethical considerations that may assist or resolve the constraints, drivers, and conflicts of food and water resources amongst these two ethnic populations and livelihoods by developing a guiding ethical framework; and

(3) identify government policies and development agency programmatic actions that have the potential to incorporate ethical standards and rights-based approaches to address food and water security challenges.

This research helps inform approaches to sustainably incorporate the food and water security needs of marginalized populations in a region impacted by significant climate change and conflict.

Related Publications:

Global Nutrition Report

With a focus on nutrition across the Sustainable Development Goals, the 2017 GNR provided new insights and ideas for action to combat the burden of malnutrition. Dr. Jessica Fanzo served as a co-chair of the Global Nutrition Report’s Independent Expert Group, alongside other co-chairs Emorn Udomkesmalee and Corinna Hawkes.

The 2017 Global Nutrition Report: full report, summaries, and translations. 

Healthy, Sustainable Diets and Food Systems

This research aimed to understand the determinants, factors, and processes that comprise a sustainable diet in an era of economic growth, rising incomes, climate change, and dietary transitions. We also investigated how diets incorporate aspects of access and affordability of foods, environmental sustainability, and cultural acceptability. Lastly, our research elucidated what comprises a sustainable diet, how the level of sustainability is measured, and the impacts and tradeoffs involved in promoting sustainable diets at both the individual and population levels. A pilot study in Nepal was completed to apply the policy analysis framework development across three relevant national policies.

Recent Publication:

Downs, , S. M., Payne, A., & Fanzo, J. (2017). The development and application of a sustainable diets framework for policy analysis: A case study of Nepal. Food Policy, 70, 40-49.

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Healthy and Sustainable Diets: Piloting Solutions for the Post 2015 Agenda

Jessica Fanzo and Shauna Downs

There is a need to reorient food systems around human health and nutrition, with a view towards environmental sustainability, and where accessible, culturally relevant, and nutritionally adequate food is the norm. Projections for the next decade further strengthen the need to improve the quality and environmental sustainability of diets, especially given the challenges imposed by climate change and increasing population growth with rising consumption of environment-costly animal-source foods. Improving food security and nutrition requires an understanding of what is meant by sustainable diets for different populations and contexts, how these diets can be assessed within our global food system, and how we can achieve environmental sustainability in our consumption patterns and dietary goals.

Systematic analyses of what constitutes healthy and sustainable food systems are virtually nonexistent, with very few frameworks that integrate environment and diet.

We proposed a new methodological framework that would allow for detailed analysis of the “sustainability” aspects related to nutrition of national food and agriculture policies. The approach was done using four Asian country cases currently undergoing a transition in their food systems (Myanmar, Nepal, Philippines, and Timor Leste). The results stemming from this research aimed to identify leverage points where technology and policy interventions can be applied to reorient the food system towards healthy and sustainable diets.

It is our aim that this methodology can be adapted to assess the policy levers for sustainable diets in specific, local settings and diverse populations that are undergoing diverse transitions at varying scales. This assessment can then inform future policies and programs, as well as the international dialogue around the Sustainable Development Goals.

Related Publications:

Downs, S., Payne, A., and Fanzo, J., 2017. The Development and Application of a Sustainable Diets Framework for Policy Analysis: A Case Study of Nepal. Food Policy 70: 40-49.

Herforth, A., Ahmed, S., Declerk, F., Fanzo, J., and Remans, R, 2017. “Creating Sustainable, Resilient Food Systems for Healthy Diets.” In United Nations Standing Committee on Nutrition A Spotlight on the Nutrition Decade.

S. Downs, A. Payne, and H. Swartz. Enhancing Sustainable Diets with Data Collection and Policy Analysis. (2017) The Economist Intelligence Unit and Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition.

Downs, S., Payne, A., and Fanzo, J., 2017. The Development and Application of a Sustainable Diets Framework for Policy Analysis: A Case Study of Nepal. Food Policy 70: 40-49.

Identifying interventions to promote the production and consumption of healthy and sustainable oils in Myanmar

Shauna Downs

This research used value chain analysis to identify interventions to promote the production and consumption of healthy and sustainably produced oils in Myanmar. Value chain analysis of palm oil was used to examine the drivers of the shift towards increased palm oil production in Myanmar and its associated nutritional, environmental and economic trade-offs. The project addressed the following research questions using a combination of existing data and primary data collection in Myanmar:

  1. What are the existing incentives or disincentives for the production and consumption of palm oil? How do these incentives compare to other domestically produced oils?
  2. What are the policy levers or points for private sector innovation that could help realign future incentives towards the production and consumption of healthy and sustainably produced oils?

This research was solutions-oriented and intended to inform the development of interventions aimed at reorienting food system incentives toward the production and consumption of healthier, more environmentally sustainable, edible oils.

EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health

Jessica Fanzo

The EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health recognized that in order to improve human and planetary health, the food system must be transformed. The Commission investigated the challenging questions that prevent governments, businesses, and civil society actors from achieving success in this arena. Their questions include:

1) What is a healthy diet?
2) What is a sustainable food system?
3) What are the trends shaping diets today?
4) Can we achieve healthy diets from sustainable food systems? How?
5) What are the solutions and policies we can apply?

Jessica Fanzo served as part of the Commission’s Working Group 4, which demonstrated the impacts of diets. Working Group 4 proposed a range of diets that incorporate nutritional needs and planetary constraints.

The Commission’s report was published by The Lancet in 2019.

For more details, see the website for the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health.

Climate Change and Nutrition

Jessica FanzoRebecca McLaren, and Claire Davis

The impacts of climate change threaten food security and nutrition outcomes, especially for vulnerable populations in the Global South. It is critical that more attention be given to the intersectionality of climate change, food security, and nutrition. The relationship between climate and nutrition is bi-directional: climate acts as a driver of nutritional status, but diets also affect climate, as well as nutrition. This research was undertaken as part of the International Food Policy Research Institute’s G-CAN: Gender-Responsive and Climate-Resilient Agriculture for Nutrition project.

The final report, Climate Change and Variability: What are the Risks for Nutrition, Diets, and Food Systems?, used a food-systems approach to analyze the pathways linking climate change and nutrition. Better understanding of these pathways is crucial to developing effective interventions that ensure the world’s population has access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food.

Related Publications:

Jessica Fanzo, Claire Davis, Rebecca McLaren, and Jowel Choufani. 2018. The effect of climate change across food systems: Implications for nutrition outcomes. Global Food Security.

Fanzo, J., McLaren, R., Davis, C., and Choufani, J. Climate Change and Variability: What are the Risks for Nutrition, Diets, and Food Systems? 2017. International Food Policy Research Institute.

J. Fanzo, R. McLaren, C. Davis, and J. Choufani. How to Ensure Nutrition for Everyone under Climate Change and Variability. (2017). Gender, Climate Change, and Nutrition Integration Initiative (GCAN) Policy Note I.

C. Davis and J. Fanzo. The Challenge of our Lifetime: How to Ensure Nutrition for Everyone under Climate Change. (2017) International Food Policy Research Institute Blog.

High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition 

Jessica Fanzo

At its 42nd session in October 2015, the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) requested the High-Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) prepare a report on food systems, diets, and nutrition that will be presented at CFS 44 in October 2017. The purpose of the report was to analyze how diets, nutrition, and health are influenced by food systems, specifically food supply chains, food environments, and consumer demand and behavior. In addition, the report aimed to identify effective policies and programs that can improve food systems and ensure that nutritious food is available and accessible in a way that is sustainable and protects the right to adequate food for all. This report was highly relevant to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the 2014 Rome Declaration on Nutrition, the subsequent Decade of Action for Nutrition, and the fulfilment of the right to adequate food and nutrition. To address the multiple burdens of stunting and wasting, micronutrient deficiencies, and overweight and obesity in the global population, policies and programs must operate via multiple sectors simultaneously, including agriculture, environment, health, water and sanitation, education, social protection, and gender.


The UN’s Second Sustainable Development Goal (SDG2) is “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.” As part of the global effort to accelerate progress towards eliminating food insecurity and malnutrition in line with SDG2, the World Food Programme (WFP) initiated a series of Zero Hunger Strategic Reviews. In partnership with WFP, we conducted Strategic Reviews for two countries: Timor-Leste and Afghanistan.

These reviews evaluated the results that have been achieved and the response gaps that still need to be addressed. The purpose of the Strategic Reviews was to enable governments to accelerate progress towards eliminating food insecurity and malnutrition in line with SDG2, as well as to inform national and international efforts to achieve Zero Hunger worldwide.

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Zero Hunger Strategic Review: Timor-Leste

Under the stewardship of former President Ramos-Horta and the Bishop of Dili, a Zero Hunger Strategic Review (SR) was undertaken with a view to determining what needs to be done to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 2 in Timor Leste: “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture”. The SR served both as a research exercise designed to give a consolidated picture of hunger and nutrition challenges in Timor Leste, and as a mechanism for supporting government to set priorities and find gaps in actions and policies currently implemented in Timor-Leste to achieve Zero Hunger. In turn, the SR allowed all stakeholders to anchor their programs for achieving zero hunger in support of a clear set of government priorities and needs.

The findings and the recommendations of the Strategic Review informed national development planning processes and contributed to the planning of all actors involved in food and nutrition security and sustainable agriculture in Timor-Leste.


Fanzo, J., Boavida, J., Bonis-Profumo, G., McLaren, R., and Davis, C. Timor Leste Strategic Review: Progress and Success in Achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 2.  2017. Centre of Studies for Peace and Development (CEPAD) and Johns Hopkins University.

J. Fanzo and R. McLaren. Poor Countries Can’t Live on Rice Alone. (2017) Bloomberg.

Q&A with Becky McLaren on Food Security and Nutrition in Timor-Leste

Zero Hunger Strategic Review: Afghanistan

Under the direction of the Lead Convener, His Excellency Hedayat Amin Arsala, an independent Strategic Review (SR) was undertaken to explore how Afghanistan can best achieve Sustainable Development Goal 2 to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture. With the guidance of an Advisory Committee and support from WFP, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), consultations were completed throughout the country in 2017.


Afghanistan Zero Hunger Strategic Review. 2017. Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and World Food Programme.


Implemented by the WHO, Ministries of Health, and country-led programs, this project took place in 11 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The project focused on increasing nutrition surveillance including health worker capacity, monitoring and evaluation, and data collection and analysis, as well as increasing nutrition awareness in all eleven countries with the ultimate goal of improving nutrition for women and children.

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Accelerating Nutrition Improvements (ANI) in Africa was a project implemented by WHO, Ministries of Health, and country-led programs, and funded by Global Affairs Canada. This project took place from 2013 to 2016 across eleven countries in sub-Saharan Africa: Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Mali, Mozambique, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Uganda, the United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. This project focused on increasing nutrition surveillance through health worker capacity, monitoring and evaluation, and data collection and analysis, as well as increasing nutrition awareness in all eleven countries with the goal of improving nutrition for women and children. ANI also supported the scale-up of evidence-based nutrition interventions in three high-burden countries: Ethiopia, Uganda, and the United Republic of Tanzania. These interventions were focused on stunting, low birth weight, and maternal anemia. At the beginning of the project, a Country Implementation Plan (CIP) was designed for each country, which outlined the data that would be collected and the interventions that would be carried out. At the end of the project, key indicators were compared between baseline and endline to evaluate progress.​ Some key outcomes included that event countries strengthened their nutrition surveillance, seven included nutrition indicators in their national information systems, seven increased capacity so that over 50 percent of health workers were confident in nutrition surveillance, four tracked three or more nutrition indicators, and eight trained health analysts to collect and analyze data. Overall, the project showed the importance of nutrition surveillance and devoting resources to improving such systems.

Related Publications:

WHO. ANI Final Report Surveillance 2012-2016. 2017.

WHO. ANI Final Report Scaling Up 2012-2016. 2017.

Fanzo, J., McLaren, R., and Swartz, H. ANI Endline Report. 2017. WHO.

Planetary Boundaries of Global Animal Food Production and Consumption: Decision-Making Tools for Social Change in Diverse Food Systems

This project tackled health, environmental, economic, and ethical challenges in the predictable worldwide increase in the production and consumption of animal-source foods, with a focus on large-scale case studies in specific countries (Brazil, Ethiopia, India, and the United States). Using a combination of research methods, including modeling, empirical research, practical ethics, and political economy analysis, this project aimed to provide a framework for solving one of the greatest health and environmental challenges of this century. This project was organized by the Berman Institute, in collaboration with the Bloomberg School of Public Health, the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, and on-site partner institutions. This project expanded on another project idea featured in the 7 by 5 Agenda: Ethics of Meat Consumption in High-, Middle- and Low-Income Countries.


Our research aimed to better understand how agriculture strategies, interventions, and investments could be “tweaked” to also include improvements in dietary and nutrition outcomes of populations living in rural areas. By using large-scale development investments in the agriculture sector, our work tethered itself to what was already being implemented and scaled in countries looking to grow their agricultural sector, and, through operations research, testing what works to improve nutrition and diets, while ensuring livelihoods are not undermined. Initial work focused on Sub-Saharan Africa.

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The Nutritional Impacts of Irrigated Horticulture in the Sahel: Leveraging a Randomized Controlled Trial in Senegal

Principal Investigator: Jessica Fanzo

Co-investigators: Drs. Ram Fishman, George Washington University and Shauna Downs, Johns Hopkins University

Irrigated horticultural production at scale can be a powerful vehicle for income generation in sub-Saharan Africa. Evidence is emerging about the pathways through which intensification of horticultural production affects nutrition outcomes. This study aimed to provide rigorous new evidence on these impacts, their pathways, and their gender dependence – both on their own and when complemented with nutrition education interventions. We leveraged a large randomized controlled trial that evaluated the impact of the PAPSEN-TIPA project, which works with groups of smallholder farmers, mostly women in Senegal. PAPSEN-TIPA disseminates improved horticultural technologies and equipment based on both past and recent agricultural research, including adaptations of drip irrigation technologies co-developed by ICRISAT and complementary vegetable seeds and cultivation practices. Changes in horticultural production, income, labor, and time use (associated with water delivery to plots) were expected to be dramatic, and we utilized this opportunity to examine the nutritional impacts of these changes. We also evaluated the complementarities of the project’s agricultural interventions with nutrition education. Heterogeneity (by gender) of decisions on crop choices, consumption and sales, and nutrition outcomes were examined.


Our interdisciplinary team from Johns Hopkins University and Wageningen University (Netherlands) initiated a pilot project that engaged with ethical, political, governance, and epistemic assumptions underlying global food futures studies. Its innovative and systematic approach borrowed tools from philosophy, futures studies, STS, economics, and other social sciences to shed light on global food futures studies.

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Studies of the futures of food answer questions such as “do we need to increase global agricultural production to feed the world sustainably in 2050?”  Conclusions vary dramatically: while some maintain we do not need to increase production at all, others claim we need to increase it by 30-100%. Similar variations and uncertainties are striking with respect to many other dimensions of food systems. Discrepancies among studies on thematic focus, indicators, and data sources are also consequential. The sheer heterogeneity of methods used to explore the futures of food undermines meaningful comparisons between studies. These issues, and many others, compromise responsible and informed collective choices vital for humanity, the wellbeing of nonhuman animals, and our impact on Earth systems. In short, disagreements on what policies and social actions we should adopt to shape the future of food depend on how we assess the evolution of food systems over the long term (at least 20 years into the future). Nothing is more fundamental.

“Futures studies,” “foresight,” or “prospective” apply scientific rigor, artful skill, and practical imagination to predict, forecast, anticipate, control, shape, or create possible futures of food that are relevant to present-day choices. The project was articulated around four work packages:

WP1: Long-term Global Food Futures: A Mapping Review of Methods and Thematic Focus since 1945 (Leader: Yashar Saghai)
WP2: FoodFutures: A Systematic Review of Global Food Security and Nutrition Model Studies (Leader Michiel van Dijk)
WP3: Challenging the Notion of “Plausible” Food Futures (Leader: Yashar Saghai)
WP4: Global Food System Governance in Food Futures Studies (Leader: Otto Hospes)

This project elaborates on an idea originally described in the 7 by 5 Agenda: Ethical Challenges in Projections of Global Food Demand, Supply, and Prices.