The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to food, as part of the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being. The Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food defines this right as,

‘the right to have regular, permanent and free access, either directly or by means of financial purchases, to quantitatively and qualitatively adequate and sufficient food corresponding to the cultural traditions of the people to which the consumer belongs, and which ensures a physical and mental, individual and collective, fulfilling and dignified life free of fear.’

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights also includes the right to food in Article 11 regarding the right to an adequate standard of living which includes the production, conservation, and distribution of food, as well as healthy and nutritious food.  This right is also recognized in the Arab Charter on Human Rights and the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration.

The main binding instruments related to the right to food are the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention Related to the Status of Refugees, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Moreover, there are a number of non-binding instruments related to the right to food such as the Universal Declaration on the Eradication of Hunger and Malnutrition, the Rome Declaration on World Food Security, and the Voluntary Guidelines to support the progressive realization of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security. Additionally, the main monitoring mechanisms at a regional level are the African Commission on Human and Peoples´ Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Accordingly, States have the obligation to respect, protect, and fulfil this right. In terms of respect, States must guarantee that everybody has the full capacity to access food. Protecting this right requires active efforts from States to deter any third party violations of this right, for example, by polluting land, water or air with hazardous materials, which would consequently result in contaminated food or food scarcity. To fulfil this right, States must also facilitate the access to or provision of food to those in need. To do this, they should promote sustainable food-related policies, such as agrarian reform programs or minimum income regulations.

Right to defend human rights and the environment

The right to food is directly linked with the right to a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment as food production depends completely on environmental conditions. As mentioned earlier, land, water or air pollution could be considered both violations of the right to food and the right to a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment, because pollution can affect the quality and availability of food in markets.

As stated by the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, climate change, understood as a product of human activity and as the main driver behind the ongoing environmental crisis, can severely affect the right to food;

‘Food production, food security and the enjoyment of the right to food are affected by shifting precipitation patterns, higher temperatures, extreme weather events, changing sea ice conditions, droughts, floods, algal blooms, and salinization.’

The effects of climate change can, therefore, affect major crops and other food sources, intensifying both food scarcity and the main factors related to food insecurity such as poverty and conflict, children being the most vulnerable under these conditions.