International · Law · International norms

Report submitted by the Special Rapporteur on the right to food

Objectives:

The report shows how undernutrition, micronutrient deficiency and overnutrition are different dimensions of malnutrition that must be addressed to fully realize the right to food

Scope:

In this report, Olivier De Schutter, then United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, highlights how the “right to food cannot be reduced to a right not to starve” (para 1). He shows how undernutrition, micronutrient deficiency and overnutrition are different dimensions of malnutrition that must be addressed to fully realize the right to food.

The report takes a broad and holistic approach in analyzing the role of food systems and of agrifood businesses in society, pointing out how the nutritional policies that emerged after the Second World War and inadequate to address today’s nutritional needs. In the conclusions, it is stated that: “… current food systems are deeply dysfunctional. The world is paying an exorbitant price for the failure to consider health impacts in designing food systems, and a change of course must be taken as a matter of urgency. In OECD countries in particular, where farm subsidies remain at high levels, the current system is one in which taxpayers pay three times for a system that is a recipe for unhealthy lives. Taxpayers pay for misguided subsidies that encourage the agrifood industry to sell heavily processed foods at the expense of making fruits and vegetables available at lower prices; they pay for the marketing efforts of the same industry to sell unhealthy foods, which are deducted from taxable profits; and they pay for health-care systems for which non-communicable diseases today represent an unsustainable burden. In developing countries, the main burdens remain undernutrition and micronutrient deficiency, but these countries, too, are victims of these failed policies. They are witnessing a rapid shift to processed foods, which are often imported, and the abandonment by the local population of traditional diets. This shift has reduced the opportunities for local farmers to live decently from farming.” (para 48)

Among its policy recommendations to States, the Special Rapporteur makes some directly in line with FULL’s policy focus:

  • “Adopt statutory regulation on the marketing of food products, as the most effective way to reduce marketing of foods high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, sodium and sugar (HFSS foods) to children, as recommended by WHO, and
    restrict marketing of these foods to other groups;” (para 50(c))
  • “Impose taxes on soft drinks (sodas), and on HFSS foods, in order to subsidize access to fruits and vegetables and educational campaigns on healthy diets;” (para 50(d))
  • “Review the existing systems of agricultural subsidies, in order to take into account the public health impacts of current allocations, and use public procurement schemes for school-feeding programmes and for other public institutions to support the provision of locally sourced, nutritious foods, with particular attention to poor consumers;” (para 50(e))