How can rights-based approaches to the food system contribute to sustainable and just decision-making?
The right to adequate food and nutrition is the foundation for many other countries’ work on incorporating ethical norms into decision-making on food systems. This right and the “rights-based approach” to development which it entails have been elaborated clearly over several decades of work by the United Nations. The right to adequate food and nutrition has been adopted as a core principle by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s Committee on World Food Security, which is becoming the central decision-making “hub” in the global food governance system. The US stands apart from all other wealthy industrialized countries in refusing to acknowledge this right, although technically the US is bound by its terms because of signing the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. What differences would result in US practices and policy were we to accept this right and work in concordance with other countries toward its progressive realization? What is the value of a rights-based framework in terms of desired changes in the environmental and social impacts of the US and global food system?
This paper analyzes the impacts of adoption of the right to adequate food and nutrition on policies and programs in other countries, and describes the changes and likely environmental and social benefits that would accrue in the US were we to recognize this right. The resistance to its full recognition by the US government is also analyzed, to understand the barriers. The paper concludes that a rights-based framework is the most pragmatic ethical foundation for decision-making in the food system because of its legal standing, full articulation and tools available for its implementation, and wide acceptance globally. The paper describes how a rights-based approach to the entire food system, not only recognition of the right to adequate food and nutrition, would point toward the most critical reforms needed throughout that system.