Human Rights and Food
What is the Human Right to Adequate Food?
The right to be free from hunger and malnutrition is a fundamental human right of every woman, man, youth and child. Universal and sustainable food security is part and parcel of reaching the social, economic and human development objectives governments agreed upon at world conferences in Rio, Vienna, Cairo, Copenhagen, Beijing, Istanbul and elsewhere. The right to adequate food is also enshrined in legal terms in the most basic international human rights treaties, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The Human Rights at Issue
The human right to adequate food includes:
The human right to be free from hunger.
The human right to access to safe drinking water.
The human right to access to resources, including energy for cooking.
The human right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
The world has recognized that human rights are universal, indivisible, interconnected and interdependent. The following human rights are indispensable if the right to food is to be fully realized:
The human right to work and receive wages that contribute to an adequate standard of living.
The human right to a safe and healthy environment.
The human right to freedom from discrimination based on sex, race, or any other status.
The human right to equality between men and women.
The human right of the child to an environment appropriate for physical and mental development.
The human right to education and access to information.
The human right to social security.
The human right to development.
The human right to peace.
The human right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress.
Governments' Obligations to Ensuring the Human Right to Adequate Food
What provisions of human right law guarantee everyone the Human Right to Adequate Food?
Includes excerpts from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
- "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for ... the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing, medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security...."
- --Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25
- "The States Parties...recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living ..., including adequate food,...and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.... The States Parties ..., recognizing the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger, shall take ... measures ...: 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; ... to ensure an equitable distribution of world food supplies in relation to need."
- --International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Article 11
- "States Parties shall pursue full implementation of [the child's right to the highest attainable standard of health] and ... shall take appropriate measures ... to combat disease and malnutrition ... through the provision of adequate nutritious foods.... States Parties recognize the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.... States Parties ... shall ... in case of need provide material assistance and support ..., particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing."
- --Convention on the Rights of the Child, Articles 24 and 27
Governments' Commitments to Ensuring the Human Right to Adequate Food
What commitments have governments made to ensuring the realization of the Human Right to Adequate Food?
Includes excerpts from the Universal Declaration on the Eradication of Hunger and Malnutrition, the 1996 Rome Declaration of the World Food Summit, and commitments made at the Earth Summit in Rio, the World Conference on Women in Beijing, and the Habitat II conference in Istanbul.
- "Every man, woman and child has the inalienable right to be free from
hunger and malnutrition in order to develop their physical and mental faculties."
- --Universal Declaration on the Eradication of Hunger and Malnutrition, Art. 1
- "Considering intolerable that more than 800 million people throughout the developing world and millions in more affluent societies do not have enough food to meet their basic needs; that millions more experience prolonged hunger during part of the year or suffer birth defects, growth retardation, mental deficiency, lethargy, blindness or death because they do not have the diversity of food necessary to meet their total needs; ... convinced that world resources, human skills and technological potential do permit the achievement within one generation of sustainable food security if determined and concerted efforts are undertaken; we confirm our individual and common commitment to take considered action to ensure that all people have at all times secure access to the food they need for an active and healthy life with human dignity."
- --1996 Rome Declaration of the World Food Summit
- "Sustainable development must be achieved at every level of society....
Governments ... should ... [promote] food security and ... food
self-sufficiency within the context of sustainable agriculture.... All countries need to assess ... the impacts of [economic] policies on ... food security.... The major thrust of food security ... is to ... increase ... agricultural production in a sustainable way and to achieve a substantial improvement in people's entitlement to adequate food."
- -- Agenda 21,Chapter 3, para. 8 andChapter 14, para. 6
- "Lack of food and the inequitable distribution of food for girls and women in the household ... have a negative effect on their health. Good health is essential to leading a productive and fulfilling life, and the right of all women to control aspects of their health ... is basic to their empowerment. Discrimination against girls, often resulting from son preference, in access to nutrition ... endangers their current and future well-being.... Actions to be taken: ... Give particular attention to the needs of girls.... Ensure that girls have continuing access to necessary health and nutrition information and services.... Promote and ensure household and national food security ... and implement programmes aimed at improving the nutritional status of all girls and women ..., including a reduction worldwide of ... malnutrition among children under ... five by one half of 1990 levels by ... 2000, giving special attention to the gender gap in nutrition, ... and a reduction in iron deficiency anaemia in girls and women by one third of the 1990 levels by the year 2000.... Ensure the availability of an universal access to safe drinking water...."
- --Beijing Platform for Action, paras. 92, 93, and 106
- "Human health and quality of life are at the centre of the effort to develop sustainable human settlements. We therefore commit ourselves to ... the highest attainable standard of ... health.... Sustainable human settlements depend on the interactive development of policies and concrete actions to provide access to food and nutrition.... Governments ... should ... formulate and implement human settlements development policies that ensure ... food security ..., giving priority to the needs and rights of women and children, who often bear the greatest burden of poverty...."
- --Habitat Agenda, paras. 36 and 116
- See also documents from the Conference on the Nutritional Rights of Man (Barcelona Declaration, 1992); the FAO/World Health Organization (WHO) International Conference on Nutrition (ICN) (1992); the Final Act of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) Uruguay Round (1994); the International Conference on Sustainable Contributions of Fisheries to Food Security (Kyoto Declaration, 1995); and the Fourth Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources (Leipzig Declaration, 1996).
For more information, please contact PDHRE
The People's Movement for Human Rights Education (PDHRE) / NY Office
Shulamith Koenig / Executive Director
526 West 111th Street, New York, NY 10025
tel: 212.749-3156; fax: 212.666-6325;