The Transformative Potential of the Right to Food

Published on truthout, by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, April 14, 2014.

Transitioning from an industrial model of agriculture to a system benefiting small-scale producers – a step governments must support – will not only alleviate worldwide hunger and poverty, but will reduce carbon emissions, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food concludes in a new report (see on OHCHR/Annual reports/year 2014, A/HRC/25/57 – click on E = Report to the Human Rights Council “The transformative potential of the right to food”).  

Middle-class Americans take it for granted that whatever hardships we face in life, we can always count on food appearing on the table. Supermarkets feature well-stocked shelves, restaurants bustle with business, and the choice of cuisines available to us would even dazzle Old World aristocrats.

But the great majority of the world’s peoples don’t enjoy such blessings. For them, the task of feeding their families is a challenge they face anew each day. Chronic hunger and malnutrition afflict close to 850 million people; another billion subsist on substandard diets; and billions more spend a huge portion of their income, even as much as half, on their humble meals of rice, wheat or corn.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognizes the right to food as integral to a satisfactory standard of living, affirming “the right of every individual, alone or in community with others, to have physical and economic access at all times to sufficient, adequate and culturally acceptable food that is produced and consumed sustainably, preserving access to food for future generations.”

Yet too often this right is neglected or trampled upon. To remedy this situation, in 2000 the UN Commission on Human Rights established the post of UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. Since 2008, this position has been held by Olivier De Schutter, who has spent the past six years seeking ways to ensure that the right to food is fully realized. His final report, issued in March, documents his conclusions and recommendations. Though written in the cool, impersonal language of the policy expert, the report conveys a truly bold message with transformative implications for the future of the global food system.

De Schutter sees the major obstacle to the achievement of global food security to be the dominant paradigm of industrial agriculture, which favors giant agricultural corporations over small-scale producers and sanctions profits rather than the eradication of hunger as the driving force behind food production. Just two pages into the report he bluntly asserts: “Measured against the requirement that they should contribute to the realization of the right to food, the food systems we have inherited from the 20th century have failed.”

While agricultural productivity has certainly increased and helped to reduce extreme hunger over the past half-century, he points out that glaring inequalities in the distribution of food persist, with women and children at a comparative disadvantage. Apart from those who lack a sufficient intake of calories, 2 billion people, especially in the developing world, suffer from “hidden hunger,” a lack of critical micronutrients such as iodine, vitamin A and iron, all essential to optimal health … //

… (full long text).

Related Texts:

Special Rapporteur on the right to food, on OHCHR.org, … with more information on the Special Rapporteurs, FactSheet on OHCHR, 24 pdf-pages;

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ICESCR:

Right to Food:

One Million Brits Now Using Food Banks, Charities Say UK Has Violated ‘Human Right To Food’, on The Huffington Post.uk, April 16, 2014;

Food Banks: The 10 Most Common Myths And How To Challenge Them, on Hugginton Post.uk, by Jessica Elgot, Oct 10, 2013;

Other Links:

India court recognises transgender people as third gender, on Washington Post, April 15, 2014;
same article also on BBCnews/India, April 15, 2014;

Asian air pollution strengthens Pacific storms, on BBCnews/China, by Rebecca Morelle, April 14, 2014;

Enigma & Deep Forest: Inception, 7.07 min, uploaded by AssortiCreative, March 10, 2012;.

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