’Our food systems are making people sick’ states UN rapporteur UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food’s special report
In a strong and tough report – presented to the UN Human Rights Council at its 19th session in March 2012, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food – Olivier de Schutter – explores the implications of the adequacy element of the right to food for agricultural policies and for the reshaping of the food systems.
The report The right to an adequate diet: the agriculture-food-health nexus is to deal with the triple challenge we face today – that of the role of agrifood systems (from increasing production to ensuring sustainable diets), undernutrition and micronutrients deficiency, as well as overweight and obesity. A strong human rights approach has been applied to the framework.
““The right to food means not only access to an adequate quantity of food, but also the ability to have a balanced and nutritious diet” .”
The report examines the agriculture-food-health nexus and analyzes why undernutrition, micronutrient deficiency and overnutrition are different dimensions of malnutrition that must be addressed together through a life-course approach.
As the document states, existing food systems have failed to address hunger and, concurrently, these systems have encouraged diets that are a source of overweight and obesity (and other chronic diet-related conditions) that cause more deaths globally than does underweight.
“Faced with this public health crisis, we continue to prescribe medical remedies: nutrition pills and early-life nutrition strategies for those lacking in calories; slimming pills, lifestyle advice and calorie counting for the overweight. But we must tackle the systemic problems that generate poor nutrition in all its forms.”
A transition towards sustainable diets can be achieved only by supporting diverse farming systems (that also support livelihoods of poor farmers) that are ecologically sustainable and that ensure adequate diets accessible to all. Notably, a strong gender dimension has been employed throughout the report – women, the principal caregivers of young children, must be enabled to make informed and autonomous decisions about food and feeding so that young children can enjoy the right to a level of nutrition that supports adequate growth, health and development.
The adoption of a human rights framework can serve to ensure that short-terms answers do not preclude the changes of identifying long-term solutions.
The Special Rapporteur presented his report to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2012, where he identified five ways to tackle disastrous diets by placing nutrition at the heart of food systems in the developed and developing world:, namely (throughougly discussed in the full report):
- taxing unhealthy products;
- regulating foods high in saturated fats, salt and sugar; “We have deferred to food companies the responsibility for ensuring that a good nutritional balance emerges. Voluntary guidelines and piecemeal nutrition initiatives have failed to create a system with the right signals, and the odds remain stacked against the achievement of a healthy, balanced diet.”
- cracking down on junk food advertising;
- overhauling misguided agricultural subsidies that make certain ingredients cheaper than others; “Heavily processed foods lead to diets richer in saturated and trans-fatty acids, salt and sugars. Children become hooked on the junk foods targeted at them. In better-off countries, the poorest population groups are most affected because foods high in fats, sugar and salt are often cheaper than healthy diets as a result of misguided subsidies whose health impacts have been wholly ignored.”
- supporting local food production so that consumers have access to healthy, fresh and nutritious foods.
“We should not simply invest our hopes in medicalizing our diets with enriched products, or changing people’s choices through health warnings. We need ambitious, targeted nutrition strategies to protect the right to adequate food, and such strategies will only work if the food systems underpinning them are put right.”
For more information on the work of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food please go here.