United Nations Expert Urges U.S. Recognition of ‘Right to Food’ for Overhaul of Broken System

by Ella

In a call for transformative action in the aftermath of the pandemic, a United Nations hunger expert asserts that the United States must acknowledge the “right to food” to revamp its ailing food system, enhancing resilience in the face of climate change and biodiversity loss. Michael Fakhri, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, emphasizes the necessity of embracing food as a fundamental right, advocating for a departure from corporate-dominated structures and a move towards a more equitable and sustainable approach.

Fakhri recently presented a report to the UN General Assembly, outlining the imperative connection between the right to food and the revitalization of global food systems. He underscores the evolving perspective that recognizes food not merely as a commodity shaped by market forces but as a political, cultural, and social entity. This paradigm shift, he argues, is crucial for empowering individuals and communities to determine their food choices.


While the right to food is enshrined in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights since 1948 and the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, it has historically been a peripheral concept in the U.S. Notably, in 2021, the U.S. and Israel stood as the only dissenting votes against a UN committee’s draft asserting food as a human right. The resolution expressed concern over the surge in those lacking access to adequate food globally, a trend exacerbated by the pandemic.


Fakhri suggests that the reluctance to embrace the right to food in the U.S. may stem from cultural and constitutional factors. However, he points out that a groundswell of support for this concept has emerged both domestically and internationally in recent years. Instances such as Maine’s approval of a constitutional amendment affirming the “natural, inherent, and unalienable right” to food, Liverpool’s designation as the first “right to food city” in the UK, and Geneva enshrining the right to food in its constitution signify a growing global recognition.


Despite these positive developments, Fakhri acknowledges the challenges within the U.S. food system. The report cites flaws in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), citing a historical legacy of racism and subsidies favoring certain “edible products” over fruits and vegetables. Fakhri contends that corporate dominance in the food and agriculture sector, exacerbated by USDA practices, is detrimental to rural communities, local economies, and public health.


Fakhri’s proposed strategy for addressing the current food crisis and building resilience includes a three-pronged approach: a national plan, an international coordinated response, and the transformation of food systems to combat climate change and prevent biodiversity loss. He underscores the success of universal school meals as a potential catalyst for positive change, citing their efficacy during the pandemic in reducing hunger and destigmatizing meal assistance.

In conclusion, Fakhri emphasizes that the right to food is not just a policy objective; it is a celebration of life, expressing love for one another and our connection to the land. As global attention focuses on Maine’s experiment with the right to food, Fakhri anticipates a broader adoption of this policy across cities, states, and countries, marking a pivotal period for governments and individuals to prioritize food as a fundamental human right.



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