In what the Food and Agriculture Organization calls “a landmark commitment to human rights,” the governing body of the UN agency has adopted Right to Food Guidelines. The aim is to further the goal of the 1996 World Food Summit to cut in half the number of chronically malnourished people by 2015.
The World Food Summit issued what is called the Rome Declaration on World Food Security. It “reaffirms the right of everyone to have access to safe and nutritious food, the right to adequate food and the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger.”
Since 1996, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the FAO, admits that efforts to halve the 800 million chronically malnourished people have fallen short.
It is why at follow-up summit five years later, delegates formally called for Right to Food Guidelines.
One of those who helped develop them is Margret Vidar (VEE-dar), a legal officer with the FAO in Rome.
She says, "These are, we hope, a practical tool to help countries to implement the right to food at the national level. They represent the basic agreement that we have in the world today about what the right of food is and what countries should be doing to make sure that the right is enjoyed."
The FAO says the guidelines “provide practical guidance to help countries implement their obligations relating to food security.” It says they “take into account important human rights principles, including equality and non-discrimination, accountability and the rule of law – as well as the principle that all human rights are universal, indivisible, inter-related and interdependent.”
Ms. Vidar says, "One of the things we promote through the guidelines is to make it a legal entitlement in law at the national level. The right to food is already recognized at the international level through the Universal declaration of Human Rights and through various treaties. What we are promoting is that countries take it a step further: incorporate the right to food into their constitution and then enact necessary legislation measures to make sure that it’s fully respected and protected."
Despite being described as a “landmark commitment to human rights,” Ms. Vidar says endorsement followed 20 months of “often difficult, but constructive negotiations.”
"One of the difficulties is that we do not have a full consensus in the world about the nature of economic, social and cultural rights. There are those countries that believe these are more aspirational than real human rights - or that they cannot be enforced in a sufficient manner. The other reason why this was difficult was while the guidelines focus on the national level, the international environment has a great impact on what countries can actually do, especially developing countries. You only have to think about issues like World Trade Organization and the agricultural subsidies to understand what I mean," she says.
Among the guidelines is a call for countries to identify the most vulnerable in their societies, such as young children, pregnant women or the elderly. The FAO says they should be used “to empower the poor and hungry to claim their rights.”