The Right to Food Campaign

Where does the right to food come from? 

The right to food, along with many other human rights, is already protected under international law but it is often harder to enforce international law. By putting the the right to food into Scots law there is more pressure on the government to take action, and it is easier to hold the government to account – this makes it more likely that we can deliver the right to food for everyone in Scotland.

International experts, like the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, can provide help and guidance on how to implement the right to food in different countries. In the below video, the current UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Michael Fakhri, provides a short overview of what the right to food means and why it is important to incorporate the right into national law.

What is the right to food?

The right to food recognises that our food system is complicated and different issues are connected across it; from food insecurity, climate change, public health, and animal welfare to food waste, workers’ rights, trade, and biodiversity – these are all important issues that are affected by the food system.  ​The food system is made up of many parts of Government, as well as individuals and companies – everyone involved in the food system has different goals and priorities. This means it is difficult to manage all of the different aspects of the food system; in the past, the government has tried to address each issue separately.

Across the food system, there are high rates of diet-related illness, environmental damage and biodiversity loss, impacts on climate change, continued concerns over animal welfare, unfair employment practices and a surge in the use of food banks.  So, we know that the Government’s method of trying to tackle all of these issues separately is not working well.

The right to food provides an alternative method by recognising that these problems are connected. The right to food sets a series of principles to guide the Government in managing the whole food system, instead of individual issues, so that it is fairer, healthier and more sustainable.

Firstly, the right to food outlines what the food system should be delivering –

Food should be accessible to everyone

  • Everyone should be able to afford food without sacrificing any other basic needs, such as heating or housing. This does not mean that food should be cheap. It means that everyone should able to afford healthy food by ensuring that the minimum wage or social security benefits are sufficient to meet the cost of nutritious food and other basic needs.
  • There should be no geographical barriers to accessing food. Where you live should not make it harder for you to access nutritious food. And people in more vulnerable categories, such as disabled people, people with illnesses, children or older people should be supported to access nutritious food. Access to food must also be guaranteed to victims of natural disasters such as floods.

Food should be adequate

  • Food must have nutrients necessary for healthy development of children and adults. It must be free from harmful substances like toxic chemicals. Food must also follow what is culturally acceptable; this recognises that food banks are not an acceptable response to poverty.

Food should be available

  • Everyone has the right to grow their own food by being able to access land and markets. Furthermore, food should be available now, and for future generations. In other words, everyone has a right to a sustainable food system that will continue to provide food for our children and our children’s children and so on.

Secondly, the right to food makes it clear that it is the Government’s responsibility to do everything in their power to achieve these aims –

The government must not prevent access to food

  • The government must not prevent people from accessing nutritious food or allow for anyone else to prevent them from accessing food. For example, the government must properly enforce regulation to stop companies polluting land and water that reduces the ability to grow nutritious food.

The government must promote access to food

  • The government must take action to strengthen people’s access to nutritious food. Whenever an individual or group is unable, for reasons beyond their control, to access nutritious food, the Government is obligated to provide it. For example, by ensuring adequate social security benefits for the most deprived people.

The government should have targets for the food system

  • Realising the right to food will take time and these problems will not be solved in one step but, by putting the right to food into Scots law, this places a duty on the government to do all that it can to make sure the food system is properly managed. It makes it clear that it is the government’s responsibility when the food system is failing and their job to make it work better for everyone.

This means the government has a duty to get an accurate understanding of the current problems in the food system. That way, we can have targets for making things better and we can hold the government to account when it does not meet those targets. Targets could include things like reducing the number of diet-related illnesses, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from across the food system and ending the practice of zero-hours contracts in the hospitality industry.

For more information watch this short animation on the right to food developed in partnership with the Scottish Human Rights Commission.