The Right to Food and Nutrition: a transdisciplinary dialogue in law making and public policies

Authors: Jose Luis Vivero-Pol[1] and Tomaso Ferrando[2]


Editor’s note: this entry is the first of a series of blogs on the right to food that we are glad to host on our webpage. Tomaso Ferrando (scientific coordinator of the FLF master) and Jose Luis Vivero Pol (faculty member) have been gathering the contributions and we all look forward to receiving more in the future.

Newspapers throughout the United Kingdom have recently reported that the Scottish Equalities Secretary Angela Constance and the Scottish Government are considering enshrining a right to food in Scots law as a step towards the creation of a sustainable solution to tackling food poverty in the country. Expressed in the form of recommendation in a 2016 independent report on Dignity and Ending Hunger Together in Scotland, this legislative intervention would transform Scotland into the first EU nation to expressly recognize the right to food in its legal system. More importantly, it would increase the visibility and political legitimacy of the claim to formalize the right to food in the Global North, a void that is difficult to understand and almost impossible to justify.


Despite rising numbers of food insecure households all over Europe (see here for The Lancet and OXFAM), the right to food is completely absent not only from the fundamental treaties of the EU, the legal frameworks of the individual Member States, and the European Convention on Human Rights, but also from the jurisprudence of national and regional courts. In other words, the right to food does not exist in the European laws. with the sole exceptions of the recent Regional law of Lombardia (Italy) and the innovative but yet-to-be approved Draft Bill on the Right to Food in Belgium – both progresses to be discussed in future blog entries.


As one of the author discusses in an article that appeared on this journal, the traditional stance of EU authorities and member states in the defence of human rights and rights-based approaches overseas does not seem to reach the conceptualization of food as a fully-fledged right at domestic level. As a consequence, Europe is evidently lagging behind the Latin American region in the protection of this right and often fails to advocate for its inclusion (black on white) in internationally-negotiated agreements such as the SDGs text, where the notion of food as a right was was deliberately removed at the very end of the negotiating process. As a consequence, there is almost no EU funds to support the advocacy, law- and policy-making process and implementation of this right at domestic or international level. In addition, while Spain, Germany, Switzerland and Norway have traditionally provided financial support to FAO for specific projects on this issue in previous years, they have been recently replaced by Brazil and Mexico as relevant actors in the promotion of the right, with an inevitable reorientation of funds towards Latin America.


With the aim of filling this intellectual and political gap and relaunching a debate, a group of academics, practitioners and activists proposed to the BMJ Global Health editors to launch a series of regular entries devoted to the right to food and nutrition with the twofold objective to contribute to the ongoing debate on the formalization of this right in Europe, America, Africa and Asia and to offer some critical tools and recommendations that may help legislators, nutritional campaigners, legal scholars and development workers implementing on food, nutrition and rights-based approaches to public policies.


Our intention is to offer a rather transdiciplinary approach that relies on our direct involvement in the promotion, enactment and justiciability of the right to food. Particular attention will be devoted to the analysis of political discrepancies, the limits of legislative interventions,, the role of grassroots mobilisations, the construction of claims that can support the materialisation of this right, the conceptual debates on right to food, right to nutrition, right to food security and right to food sovereignty. Overall, we aspire to be learning brokers between constituencies (movements, cities, countries, regions) that have already recognized this right and those that are not yet there politically, culturally and legally.


Although this series will pay particular attention to the enactment experiences, we agree that the implementation of the right to food and nutrition at national and sub-national level cannot be limited to the formalization of this right into the legal framework. In that sense, it is key to conceive the right to food as one of the pillars of a broader public food policy that not only reconsiders all the phases of the food chain (from production to post-consumption), but also recognizes that the effective protection, defence and fulfilment of this right depends on recognizing the dignity of hungry people and their legitimacy to claim for this right, the identification of spaces of collective participation where those most affected by food insecurity can contribute as citizens to public policy design, the creation of mechanisms of individual and collective grievance and, largely, on the coherence of all politics and legislations that may directly or indirectly affect the right to food. More importantly, it cannot be dissociated from the incoherence of having the same public policies supporting an industrial food system that is driven by principles rather different from the rights-based approach, namely profit maximisation, absolute proprietary rights, lack of transparency, accountability and participation and money-mediated access instead of rights-mediated access.


Although some authors have already confirmed their contribution to the series[3], this entry obviously extends an invitation to scholars, policy makers, development professionals and activists to write contributions to this dialogue so that the legal recognition of the right to food and nutrition can lead to an effective and systemic solution for hunger and malnutrition in specific countries and at global level.







[1] Research Fellow, Center for the Philosophy of Law (CPDR) and Earth and Life Institute (ELI), Universite catholique de Louvain. Jose Luis has been directly involved in food law making and policy implementation in Latin America and the academic analysis of processes and outputs.

[2] Assistant Professor, Warwick University School of Law. Tomaso has been involved in the discussions and preparatory work that anticipated the Regional Law on the Right to Food in Lombardia.

[3] The following writers have already confirmed their willingness to participate: Tomaso Ferrando (Warwick University) and Roberto Sensi (ActionAid, Italy) on the Lombardia Law; Jose Luis Vivero (University of Louvain) on lessons from Latin American law-making; Naomi Hossain (IDS, Sussex) on how hungry people perceive the right to food; Jose Maria Medina (Prosalus, Spain) on the right to food in Bolivia and Peru; Priscilla Claeys (Coventry University) on the nascent Peasants´ Rights and Juan Carlos Garcia Cebolla (FAO) on progresses and challenges at global level.


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