International · Law · International norms

Food, nutrition and the right to health – Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to health

Objectives:

Using the frameworks of intersectionality, anti-coloniality and anti-racism, as well as existing international human rights laws and standards, the Special Rapporteur examines how the lack of access to safe and nutritious food has an impact on growth, development and quality of life across the life cycle.

Scope:

In this report, the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng, examines how food systems and food environments affect health outcomes. Her analysis is carried out through the lens of intersectionality, anti-coloniality, and anti-racism, to show how inequities in food and nutrition reflect power asymmetries at every level of society.

The report discusses the extensive impact of food insecurity on global populations, noting that over 2.4 billion people lack regular access to adequate food. Malnutrition, defined as including undernutrition, overweight, obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases, disproportionately affects the most marginalized groups within societies, including Indigenous Peoples, women, children, and infants. The practices of some corporations, particularly those in high-income countries, exacerbate these issues. These practices, often rooted in neocolonialism, racism, and extractive capitalism, include exploiting natural resources for food production and marketing unhealthy foods in lower-income countries.

For the purposes of FULL, the most relevant part of the report are the policy recommendations. The Special Rapporteur endorses three of the policies that are the focus of FULL: front-of-pack nutrition labeling, marketing restrictions, and fiscal policies. Specifically, it states that:

  • “mandatory front-of-package nutrition labelling, and specifically warning labels, aligns with States’ obligation to protect the right to health and health-related rights by requiring that third parties – in this case, corporations – convey accurate, easily understandable and transparent information about products with excessive critical nutrients so that individuals can make informed dietary decisions” (para 74)
  • “Front-of-package nutrition labelling also contributes to the realization of the right to information and the right to benefit from scientific progress and its application, which includes access to scientific knowledge and information” (para 75)
  • “States are obligated to regulate marketing, reduce children’s exposure to food and beverage advertising and ensure that industry provides accurate and easy-to-read nutrition information when advertising its products” (para 78)
  • “In relation to the right to health, ‘equity demands that poorer households should not be disproportionately burdened with health expenses as compared to richer households’ (see E/C.12/2000/4, para. 12 (b)). Taxation and subsidy strategies can redistribute the relative costs of foods, promoting equity and empowering decision-making” (para 80)
  • States also have the immediate obligation to take ‘deliberate, concrete, and targeted’ measures towards fulfilling economic, social and cultural rights (see E/1991/23, para. 2). Revenue collected from taxes can allow each State to comply with its obligation to progressively achieve the full realization of rights ‘to the maximum of its available resources’ and ‘by all appropriate means’ (para 81)

The measures adopted by Brazil, Colombia, Barbados, and Mexico (uploaded here on FULL) are mentioned as good practices by the Special Rapporteur.