“The right to adequate food 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”5 .
What do we mean by “adequate food”? How is this right to adequate food realised? At present and for the immediate future, food availability is not the issue, rather, the problem is access to food for those who are vulnerable and deprived.6 This article looks at how the right to adequate food is realized for those who are not in a position to exercise their individual or family or community right to adequate food.
Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 was the first time the idea of a right to food was recognized as a human right. This was reaffirmed in Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Access to food is in fact essential to human survival. The “right to food” is a fundamental human right the fulfilment of which impinges on the realization of most other human rights such as the “right to life” and the “right to health”, which are inextricably linked to the “right to food”. Often when discussing the right to food, the term adequacy arises. General Comment No.12 defines “adequate food” broadly since adequacy has several dimensions. Adequacy requires that the food contain sufficient macro and micronutrients for optimal physical and mental development in order to support desired activity levels. These requirements differ across individuals, even of the same age, sex, and activity level. Moreover, food adequacy requires that protective measures must be put in place to prevent contamination or adulteration of foodstuffs and to prevent the presence of toxins. In addition, food adequacy requires that access to food be ensured in a way that meets cultural or consumer needs and does not violate social norms.
Secondly, beyond providing the legal substantive scope of the right to food, General Comment No.12 outlines the procedural elements of the right. It explains the obligations of States in relation to the right to food. States are obligated to take steps to achieve the realization of the right to adequate food by ensuring the availability of a minimum level of food. State must begin with the assumption that human beings, families and wider groups seek to find their own solutions to their needs, states should, at the primary level, respect the resources owned by the individual and the individual's freedom to satisfy his or her own needs.
Fulfilling the right to food creates a two-fold obligation for states: on the one hand there is an obligation to facilitate, and on the other hand there is an obligation to provide. The former obligation ensures that rights can be enjoyed, or in other words States must provide the opportunities to fulfill such rights. Facilitation takes many forms. With regard to the right to adequate food, the state shall take steps to improve measures of production, conservation and distribution of food by making full use of technical and scientific knowledge and by developing or reforming agrarian systems. 7 The second obligation on states, namely the obligation to provide adequate food, arises when it is not feasible for people to access adequate food in the amounts necessary. In this situation, States are obliged to take proactive measures to facilitate the realization of the right to food. This obligation includes the need to ensure the provision of adequate food to those not in a position to exercise their right individually such as the old, the infirm or the young. It also includes the obligation to address famine and deprivation not only within the state but also in third countries.
Food as culture and enjoyment is an idea that is spreading rapidly among those who have sufficient and easy access to it. Cooking and cookbooks, good restaurants, television programmes and talk of food is everywhere. At the same time the poor go hungry and the mental development of children is stunted from malnutrition. This is happening even if the right to food is part of the accepted economic and social rights of world citizens and is an important part of the human rights system. For this reason it can be considered that the political will has not been garnered to give effect to the right to adequate food for all, despite the long-standing commitment in international law to provide the circumstances in which all can benefit from the right to adequate food. More effort is still needed to give effect to this most basic of the human rights.