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The right to food is the right to have regular, permanent and unrestricted access, either directly or by means of financial purchases, to quantitatively and qualitatively adequate and sufficient food corresponding to the cultural traditions of the people to which the consumer belongs, and which ensure a physical and mental, individual and collective, fulfilling and dignified life free of fear.
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights declared that “the right to adequate food is realized when every man, woman and child, alone or in community with others, has physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement. The right to adequate food shall therefore not be interpreted in a narrow or restrictive sense which equates it with a minimum package of calories, proteins and other specific nutrients. The right to adequate food will have to be realized progressively. However, States have a core obligation to take the necessary action to mitigate and alleviate hunger even in times of natural or other disasters.
States have obligations under various international instruments relevant to the progressive realization of the right to adequate food. Notably, States Parties to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) have the obligation to respect, promote and protect and to take appropriate steps to achieve progressively the full realization of the right to adequate food. States Parties should respect existing access to adequate food by not taking any measures that result in preventing such access, and should protect the right of everyone to adequate food by taking steps so that enterprises and individuals do not deprive individuals of their access to adequate food. States Parties should promote policies intended to contribute to the progressive realization of people’s right to adequate food by proactively engaging in activities intended to strengthen people’s access to and utilization of resources and means to ensure their livelihood, including food security. States Parties should, to the extent that resources permit, establish and maintain safety nets or other assistance to protect those who are unable to provide for themselves.
There are many relevant international instruments in which the progressive realization of the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, is enshrined. Key amongst those are:
1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family,including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right, recognizing to this effect the essential importance of international cooperation based on free consent.
2. The States Parties to the present Covenant, recognizing the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger, shall take, individually and through international cooperation, the measures, including specific programmes, which are needed:
(a) to improve methods of production, conservation and distribution of food by making full use of technical and scientific knowledge, by disseminating knowledge of the principles of nutrition and by developing or reforming agrarian systems in such a way as to achieve the most efficient development and utilization of natural resources;
(b) taking into account the problems of both food-importing and food-exporting countries, to ensure an equitable distribution of world food supplies in relation to need.
1. Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to take steps, individually and through international assistance and cooperation, especially economic and technical, to the maximum of its available resources, with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of the rights recognized in the present Covenant by all appropriate means, including particularly the adoption of legislative measures.
2. The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to guarantee that the rights enunciated in the present Covenant will be exercised without discrimination of any kind as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
1. Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.
In addition, please refer to international standards on the right to food as they relate to specific groups, for instance the Convention on the Rights of the Child , Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to name a few, contain relevant provisions on the Right to food. View the right to food as it relates to specific groups.
Below are a list of relevant Regional Standards containing provisions on the right to food.
Article 12 – Right to Food
1. Everyone has the right to adequate nutrition which guarantees the possibility of enjoying the highest level of physical, emotional and intellectual development.
2. In order to promote the exercise of this right and eradicate malnutrition, the States Parties undertake to improve methods of production, supply and distribution of food, and to this end, agree to promote greater international cooperation in support of the relevant national policies.
Article 17 – Protection of the Elderly states that “…States Parties agree to …: a. Provide suitable facilities, as well as food and specialized medical care, for elderly individuals who lack them and are unable to provide them for themselves; …“
1. Every individual shall have the right to enjoy the best attainable state of physical and mental health.
1. All peoples shall have the right to their economic, social and cultural development with due regard to their freedom and identity and in the equal enjoyment of the common heritage of mankind.
2. States shall have the duty, individually or collectively, to ensure the exercise of the right to development.
Article 15 – Right to Food Security obliges States to ”provide women with access to clean drinking water, sources of domestic fuel, land, and the means of producing nutritious food;” and to ”establish adequate systems of supply and storage to ensure food security.“
Article 14 – Health and Health Services states that “Every child shall have the right to enjoy the best attainable state of physical, mental and spiritual health.” and that “State Parties to the present Charter shall undertake to pursue the full implementation of this right and in particular shall take measures … (c) to ensure the provision of adequate nutrition and safe drinking water; (d) to combat disease and malnutrition within the framework of primary health care through the application of appropriate technology; … (h) to ensure that all sectors of the society, in particular, parents, children, community leaders and community workers are informed and supported in the use of basic knowledge of child health and nutrition, the advantages of breastfeeding, hygiene and environmental sanitation and the prevention of domestic and other accidents; …”
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has released General Comment No. 12 on the Right to adequate Food and General Comment No. 15 on the Right to Water, which clarify the scope and meaning of the right to food including nature of State Parties’ obligations, and the concept of progressive realization.
In addition, the Human Rights Committee released General Comment No. 6 on the Right to Life (article 6) which includes an interpretation on the right to life as including the prevention of malnutrition.
The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food is:
(a) To seek, receive and respond to information on all aspects of the realization of the right to food, including the urgent necessity of eradicating hunger;
(b) To establish cooperation with Governments, intergovernmental organizations, in particular the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and non-governmental organizations, on the promotion and effective implementation of the right to food, and to make appropriate recommendations on the realization thereof, taking into consideration the work already done in this field throughout the United Nations system;
(c) To identify emerging issues related to the right to food worldwide.”
As part of his/her mandate, the Special Rapporteur submits annual reports to the General Assembly on a range of thematic issues relating to the right to food. View Annual Reports of the Special Rapporteur here.
Visits to countries are also an important component of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate. The aim of such visits is to obtain first-hand information on the right to food, to report on his findings and to propose, in a spirit of cooperation and assistance, recommendations to improve situations identified as matters of concern. View country reports of the Special Rapporteur here.