This week, Nutripol is lucky to have our very first guest article by Dr. Hope Johnson of the Queensland University of Technology! Despite the fact that international human rights legislation has evolved to include the right to safe, affordable, culturally appropriate, and nourishing food, there are still millions of people experiencing food shortages and micronutrient deficiencies. Dr. Johnson helps explain this paradox, and argues why a rights-based approach to food security might be a critical step for ensuring food security worldwide.
Hope Johnson is an ARC Postdoctoral Research Fellow based at the Faculty of Law, Queensland University of Technology. Hope has written, research and presented on different aspects of the global governance of food and agriculture. Her doctoral thesis adopted a systems-based approach to critically examine the ways in which agriculture is governed by international institutions. A focus of Hope’s research is rights-based approaches to enabling food security. Hope is a member of the International Law and Global Governance Group. Her research interests include regulation, human rights, environmental law, international economic law and public nutrition interventions.
You, and each other person, have a legal right to food that governments are legally and morally obligated to respect, protect and fulfil. Your right to food exists regardless of whether your country’s constitution recognises it and regardless of your age, nationality, race, gender or other social categorisation. It is a powerful tool to identify issues, influence change and determine a way forward.
At the international level, countries got together in 1948 and agreed that each human is owed a right to food, and that countries must individually and collectively work towards realising this right. You can check out the UN Declaration on Human Rights to see the recognition of the right to food at article 25. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has the most detailed explanation of the right to food. It shows that governments agree to:
The right to food does not simply mean that you should have sufficient calories. Instead, it means you have the ability to purchase or grow enough food to meet your dietary needs required to live a fulfilling human life. It means the food you have economic and physical access to is safe and uncontaminated and that your food meets your cultural and social values.
Our food systems have generally failed to address hunger and nutrient deficiencies while enabling diets that contribute to obesity. The number of obese people went from 105 million in 1975 to 641 million in 2014. Since 2014, most of the world’s population has lived in countries where overweight and obesity kills more people than starvation. The “double burden of malnutrition” is a term that people use to describe the co-existence of food insecurity (not enough access to food) with obesity and diet-related noncommunicable disease. For example, an individual can be obese with nutritional deficiencies or a child may be obese with an underweight parent. At the population level, whole communities may, and do have, high levels of both obesity and starvation.
These trends have occurred partly because the laws, investments and policies that influence food systems have focused on increasing agricultural outputs and lowering food prices without adequate consideration of nutrition or sustainability. It also occurs as companies seek to add value to their food products by processing them (after all, potatoes are much cheaper than potato chips generally), and seek to sell more food products by making foods “moreish” (here’s looking at you Pringles). Instead, food systems need to be re-oriented from an emphasis on production towards ensuring that they provide adequate food across dietary, environmental, equity and cultural dimensions.
Using the right to food to make demands of politicians or other organisations is a particularly useful approach, because rights language is empowering and its legal basis makes it more influential. Instead of saying ‘I want this’ or ‘Please let us have this’, the language becomes ‘I am entitled to this’ and ‘You are obligated to do this’. It can be used to support claims that:
Disclaimer: I am not a licensed nutritionist nor a registered dietician. The opinions expressed in this article are my own, and each individual is ultimately responsible for his/her dietary and nutrition practices. Please consult a physician before starting a new dietary program.