The right to food is a complex issue that carries with it many paradoxes. The right to food is the most invasively violated right. As of 2012, there are at least one billion undernourished people around the world. The right to food is also one of the least controversial international rights, few are willing to object to an individual’s fundamental rights to life, what is contested is methods of implementation. Up until around 20-30 years ago, the food crisis was thought to be the result of food shortage. Since then the food crisis has been reevaluated and is now well recognized to be a both a technical, social, and political problem.
In prior years, armed conflict and natural disaster were thought to be the cause of hunger. However, a more modern take on the causes of global hunger suggest that only ten percent of the global hunger crisis can be attributed to times of war and natural disasters. The majority causes of hunger, ninety percent, are attributed to political, social, economic and discriminatory factors. It has also been estimated that 70 percent of the hungry are female. This is because of mass discrimination in areas of food shortages. Specifically, the belief and practice of land ownership going mostly to males. As well as, pay discrimination where women work for much lower wages than men for the same work. According to the World Food Programme, if female farmers had equal access to resources, the number of hungry in the world could be reduced by 150 million people.
The right to food is an internationally recognized human right that is comprised of three main elements. The first is availability, there must be enough food to feed everyone and that food must be sustainable for future generations. The second element is adequacy of the food, does the food available meet dietary and nutritional standards? This may include food that is unhealthy, such as processed foods. Foods that lead to obesity are considered a violation of the nutritional element of the right to food (consider obesity in the US). The third and final element of the right to food deals with accessibility. In order for this element to be fulfilled, the financial cost of food cannot undermine the acquisition of other basic needs (housing, health, etc.).
The establishment of the right to food has a long history. One of the first major players for “right to life” rights, like the right to food, was Eleanor Roosevelt and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In President Roosevelt’s 1944 State of the Union Address, he outlines his proposed second bill of rights.
The second of the eight economic protections outlined by Roosevelt, deals with the right to food, for FDR that meant the right to adequate food. Later, in 1948 the United Nations established the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Within that declaration is article 25, which states that,
United Nations (1948) “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” (Article 25).
Eighteen years later in 1966, the United Nations ratified the “International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights”. Which in article 11, it states, “anyone who ratifies this covenant must recognize that everyone has a right to an adequate standard of living, within the standard of living is the right to adequate food”. The United States signed on October 5, 1977.
One of the major proposed solutions to the world hunger crisis is, the right to food. The main goal of making food a fundamental human right is, making food an obligation. Democratic societies will then have that obligation to fulfill, as a right by the people. Just as they do with all other recognized human rights. Making food a fundamental right also changes the narrative of hunger in society from a charity based issue to a rights-based issue, again motivating not only the private sector but also government. Food aid has historically been the short term solution to hunger but has not provided any long-term solutions. Currently 60 percent of that aid comes from the US. Other recognized solutions are food sovereignty and food security, which deal with establishing sustainable solutions to the world hunger in those areas.
The conflict within the right to food has long history that can be dated back to the cold war. During the cold war there was an international dispute between which international convenient was best. Countries like the Soviet Union ratified the International Covenant on Economic and Cultural Rights, which is comprised of positive liberties, protection provided by government, one of which was the right to food. Countries that set on the opposite side of the spectrum ratified the International Convenient on Civil and Political Rights; these were seen as negative rights, protection against the governmental action. Negative rights being the United States first bill of rights and any the basis of any constitutional and liberal writings from the late 18th and early 19th century. At that time the right to food was not seen as a civil right.
Further opposition to the right to food follows along the same lines of an understanding as those who view “rights to life” as economic protections rather than fundamental human rights (or civil protections). During the ratification of the 1996 Rome Declaration on World Food Security, every major country except for the United States and Australia ratified the idea that the right to food is fundamental. Then in 2008 there was another UN declaration on the fundamental human right to food, there were 184 countries for and only one against, the United States. In 2009 there was a change in United States Position on the right to food but not a major one. In 2009 during the first part of the Obama administration, the United States recognized that there was a right to food, but it was not the formal obligation of the government to fulfill (being positive v. negative rights). The US opposition largely deals with the fact that the right to food is not in the US constitution and is not a protected negative liberty.
When it comes to providing practical policy on the issue of world hunger and the right to food I purpose the following. First, recognize that the right to food is a fundamental human right rather than an economic or civil right. A fundamental right all on its own, just as any other human right. Second, end sexual discrimination in developing countries, empower women to farm at the same capacity as men and produce more labor and more food for future generations. Ending discrimination requires providing incentives for families to send their girls to school, like school lunches. The third solution, establish food security. To do this, nations would have to come together and sanction nations that use famine as a political tool, and encourage (non-violently) those nations to adopt democratic principles to ensure those rights remain protected. Lastly, food insecure nations need a combination of food aid and sustainable independent production solutions. It is imperative that my first policy suggestion (the international recognition of the right to food as fundamental) be implemented for the later thee policy suggestions to work. The fight for ending the global hunger crisis along with the total establishment of the right to food starts within the global population’s hearts and minds. Recognizing that we are all a part of a global family, community and citizenry is the only way we can do this. Humanity is capable of ending world hunger and its up to all of us.