UN expert urges greater legal inclusion of measures to ensure global right to food

Photo: World Bank/Maria Fleischmann

25 October 2013 – The United Nations independent expert on food today urged Governments to incorporate nutrition strategies into laws and legal entities to further drive the global right to food movement.

“Hunger that was seen as a technical problem came to be seen increasingly as a political problem,” Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, told journalists in New York referring to a shift in how that right has progressed away from being “forgotten.”

Mr. De Schutter, who earlier today briefed the UN General Assembly’s main social, humanitarian and cultural body (Third Committee), called for improved accountability to fight against the marginalization and discrimination that leaves many groups in society without access to food.

“What I have seen is that food security laws and policies based on rights and entitlements – to productive resources, to accessing foodstuffs, to social protection – is ‘food security-plus’. It can transcend changes in the political, economic and agricultural landscape and make lasting inroads against hunger,” he stressed in a news release.

Mr. De Schutter, whose mandate expires next year, is among the UN special rapporteurs this month presenting his report to the Third Committee. Based on missions to 11 countries in different regions globally, the report details progress made on the right to food over the past decade.

South Africa, Kenya, Mexico and Niger have all taken steps to incorporate rights to nutrition into their constitutions, according to the report, while a number of others also adopted food and nutrition security laws.

“Treating food as a human right brings coherence and accountability. It helps to close the gaps by putting food security of all citizens at the top of the decision-making hierarchy, and making these decision-making processes participatory and accountable,” he said.

Among his recommendations, Mr. De Schutter urges the setting of important precedents and making the right to food fully “justiciable.”

“Often we labour under the misconception that the right to food is not like political rights such as freedom of speech,” said the Special Rapporteur. “But economic and social rights – to food, water, housing, social protection – are just as real, just as binding, and can be upheld just as legitimately in court.”

Next year, the Committee on World Food Security will review the first decade of the implementation of the Right to Food Voluntary Guidelines adopted in Rome in 2004.

Among other topics noted, Mr. De Schutter said it was “nothing short of scandalous” that an estimated one-third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted – around 1.3 billion tons at a cost around $750 billion annually.

The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and partners have launched the SAVE FOOD initiative to reduce food loss and waste along the entire chain of food production and consumption.

On a related front, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) took the opportunity provided last week by World Food Day (16 October) to work with its partner companies to hosting a series of events, rallying employees and clients to the common cause of ending hunger. Designer Michael Kors and other private sector actors used the date to ramp up their campaigns on behalf of the planet’s poorest.

“Today is the day,” Kors told CNN on World Food Day, as he described his global #watchhungerstop campaign on behalf of WFP’s school feeding programme. “…this is an unbelievable transformation that everyone can be involved in – in changing someone’s life.”

Crowds packing Kors’ Manhattan store on the day got their photos snapped wearing free #watchhungerstop T-shirts. Others gathered in nearby Times Square as the images – sprinkled with those of celebrities like Heidi Klum – flashed from billboards lit up in WFP blue.

Special rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back, in an unpaid capacity, on specific human rights themes.


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