What is the Right to Food?

Linked with C.T. Butler – USA, with Keith McHenry – USA, with THE FOOD NOT BOMBS MOVEMENT, and with Helping the Homeless – The Right To Food. Special link: the right to food on FAO.org.

The right to food means that Governments must not take actions that result in increasing levels of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition. It also means that Governments must protect people from the actions of others that might violate the right to food. Governments must also, to the maximum of available resources, invest in eradicating hunger. The right to food is not about charity, but about ensuring that all people have the capacity to feed themselves in dignity.

The right to food is a human right and is a binding obligation well-established under international law, recognised in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as a plethora of other instruments. The right to food has also been recognised in numerous national constitutions. The right to food has been well defined in the General Comment No. 12 of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This defines the right to food as:

the right of every man, woman and child alone and in community with others to have physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement in ways consistent with human dignity.”


According to the General Comment, the right to food also implies three types of obligations – the obligations to respect, protect and to fulfil. The obligations to respect existing access to adequate food requires States parties not to take any measure that result in preventing such access. The obligation to protect requires measures by the State to ensure that enterprises or individuals do not deprive individuals of their access to adequate food. The obligation to fulfil (facilitate) means that States must pro-actively engage in activities intended to strengthen people´s access to and utilization of resources and means to ensure their livelihood, including food security. Finally, whenever an individual or group is unable to enjoy the right to adequate food by the means at their disposal, States have the obligation to fulfil (provide) that right directly.”

Under article 2(1) of the International Covenant on ESCR States agreed to take steps to the maximum of their available resources to achieve progressively the full realization of the right to adequate food. Under article 2(2) of the Covenant States agreed to guarantee that the right to food will be exercised without discrimination. Finally, under article 3 of the Covenant States agreed to ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of the right to food.

The new Voluntary Guidelines on the right to food set out some practical steps on how Governments can implement the right to food.

The excellent FAO timeline of important international events gives an outline of key international developments related to the right to food.

Recently, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has elaborated a new General Comment No 15 on the Right to Water. This is also extremely relevant to the definition of the right to food … (full long text).

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