Right to food in Italy: from politics to policies

Roberto Sensi, Food Law Finance Student

Several food initiatives were carried out during the EXPO2015 semester. Among them, the most interesting concerned ones the construction of the so-called “cultural legacy” of EXPO 2015. The first is the Milan Chart, a not binding document signed by business, civil society and citizens who  “declare their personal responsibility and firmly ask governments and institutions to undertake measures in order to contribute to the Millennium Developments Goals as stated by the United Nations”.

The second is the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact, an “international protocol, engaging the largest number of world cities for the development of food systems, based on the principles of sustainability and social justice”. Strongly supported by the City of Milan, the Pact was signed  by  important international cities around the world.  In parallel, the City of Milan launched adopted its local food policy: a five-years food strategy which call, among others, for the establishment  of a metropolitan food council.

The third relevant initiative launched during the EXPO semester has been the Regional law on Right to Food (34/2015)  adopted by the  Lombardia Regional Council.

All the initiatives  mention the importance of the right to food for promoting fair and sustainable food system. As such, they fully endorse the recognition of access to food as a human right internationally recognized that “is realized when every man, woman and child, alone or in community with others, has physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement”.  Thanks to the legal and political recognition, the right to food has been consolidate in its role as “normative and analytical framework to food and requires that States at different level, provide access to food when individuals and communities are unable to meet their own food needs”.

The decisions taken after EXPO are also the recognition of the restless work done by several UN agencies (in particular the FAO), Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) and social and farmer movements. They campaigned, advocated and acted for the right to food to be recognized as a central pillar in the food security global governance arena and for a right-based approach to food security and food policies to be adopted in program interventions by institutional donors (ex. European Union) and NGOs.

Although it is mainly recognized in the Global South, the fact that the right to food has been entering into the political framework of the Global North may represent an innovation capable of leading to relevant and positive impact on public policies and the socio-economic sustainability of these countries (and of the entire planet). In particula,r the recognition that the right to food moves beyond a charity-based model by making food an entitlement and requiring the State take an active and holistic approach to the food system and not simply to alleviating hunger,  represents the more promising approach to tackle the root causes of food insecurity in all countries the richest and the poorest..

Unfortunately, the Milan food policy and the Lombardia Regional Law are emblematic examples of how the right to food discourse  in Italy is still significantly affected by political tensions rather than fostering policies and on-the-ground interventions.  Since the adoption of the Regional Law almost one year ago, for example, nothing significant happened. Even the establishment of a food commission, that was recently voted, just allows for the participation of the most powerful actors of the food chain, those who already have a voice and are often visible. Furthermore, at institutional level, there has been no effort to bring sectorial policies (health, agriculture, environmental)  under a common strategy  and a horizontal regional food policy.

For sure, the construction of an EXPO legacy may create institutional awareness about the importance of building a different governance system. Therefore, a new governance system will be more likely established in the future, the current situation in the City of Milan and in Lombardia shows the existence of numerous obstacles towards the adoption of a genuine right-based framework in food security policies. For example,  an inadequate monitoring mechanism has been established yet and the metropolitan food council still remains on paper in such way weakening the overall accountability system.

These example show the inadequacy of institutional knowledge and the lack of skills regarding the human rights framework. Furthermore, all these initiative have been mostly characterized by a top-down approach that is incompatible with a different vision of food policies and the food system. This is particularly the case of the Lombardy Region Law. Because Expo Milano 2015 legacy goal, the local council took a strong lead, affecting the capacity and opportunities of a truly participated process. At the end, the consultation was inadequate and effective “multistakeholderism”  was relegated to the participation of few representative form CSOs and private sector who had continuing access to decision making process.

In conclusion, the right to food formal recognition is a first and important step but now it is the time to move ahead  from the politics to the policies and it can happen just if people will be able and willing to engage on this battle.

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