Towards a Common Food Policy for the EU

IPES-Food has just released a report arguing for a Common Food Policy for the European Union:. The report proposes a “direction of travel for the whole food system, bringing together the various sectoral policies that affect food production, processing, distribution, and consumption, and refocusing all actions on the transition to sustainability.”

The report provides 4 reasons why a common food policy is required:

1. INTEGRATION ACROSS POLICY AREAS: A Common Food Policy is needed to put an end to conflicting objectives and costly inefficiencies.

2. INTEGRATION ACROSS GOVERNANCE LEVELS: A Common Food Policy is required to harness grassroots experimentation and align actions at EU, national, and local levels.

3. GOVERNANCE FOR TRANSITION: An integrated food policy can overcome short-term thinking and path dependencies in a way that sectoral policies cannot.

4. DEMOCRATIC DECISION-MAKING: A Common Food Policy can revive public participation in policymaking, reconnect citizens to the European project, and reclaim public policies for the public good.


The Common Food Policy vision draws on the collective intelligence of more than 400 farmers, food entrepreneurs, civil society activists, scientists and policymakers consulted through a three-year process of research and deliberation.

Full report is available here

Summary report here

Winds of change, or more of the same? Urbanization and rural transformation in the context of emerging global initiatives

By Alison Blay-Palmer

 This entry is part of a special series of blog posts about the UN’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS): The Future of the CFS? Collectively reflecting on the directions of UN’s most inclusive body. Read more about this project here.

Today we continue with our fourth thematic cluster: “Emerging Issues at the CFS: How are they being addressed?”.  In this post, Alison Blay-Palmer reflects on opening at the international level for discussing food with an increasingly regional and sustainability focus. She questions whether emerging initiatives call into question the capacity of the CSM and its constituent groups to achieve its mandate on the Right to Food.

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I offer the following comments as a new observer of the CFS process. I attended CFS 42 (2015) and then 43 (2016), and participate in the Civil Society Mechanism (CSM) meetings for the SDGs and Urban and Rural Transformation.

The food spaces within and between rural and urban communities are simultaneously interconnected and contested in part due to increasing distances between smallholder producers who provide most of the world’s food, and urban eaters who are now in the majority and increasing in numbers.

In opposition to the globalization and industrialization that creates these rifts in our food system, and in tandem with increased explicit attention to urban-rural linkages by the CFS, recently launched initiatives such as the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact (MUFPP),  New Urban Agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals and the City-Region Food System project offer local pathways to more coherent regional sustainable food systems and increased capacity for urban and rural transformation that respects the Right to Food.

Nevertheless, being outside of CFS debate, these initiatives might call into question the capacity of the CSM and its constituent groups to engage based on:

  1. inadequate funding for the CFS,
  2. a lack of joined-up policy; and;
  3. the threat to agro-ecological farming systems from high technology.

The MUFPP, launched in 2015, now has 133 signatory cities that together include more than 460 million people. The Pact draws direct connections between rural and urban communities “Recognizing that family farmers and smallholder food producers, (notably women producers in many countries) play a key role in feeding cities and their territories, by helping to maintain resilient, equitable, culturally appropriate food systems; and that reorienting food systems and value chains for sustainable diets is a means to reconnect consumers with both rural and urban producers” (MUFPP 2015: 1).

Enhanced direct links between producers and consumers offer the potential for better market opportunities for smallholder farmers and improved access to nutritional food for the urban food insecure. This level of integration is also key to addressing the 2030 Agenda goals. For example, the Report of the UN Secretary General titled ‘Agricultural development, food security and nutrition’ (2016) points to SDG 2 (zero hunger) that addresses food and nutrition security and its interconnections with production considerations including soil quality (Goal 15), water quality and availability (Goal 6), climate (Goal 13), gender equality (Goal 5) and production and consumption patterns (Goal 12).

While developed as an international initiative through UN-Habitat, the New Urban Agenda looks to integrate ‘urban and territorial planning’ to end hunger and malnutrition by making local food supply-consumption loops less wasteful and more affordable, coordinating policy at the food-energy-water-health-transportation-waste nexus, and conserving genetic (and presumably, though not explicitly) biodiversity. Paragraph 123 of the Agenda states:

 “We [Heads of State and Government, Ministers and High Representatives] will promote the integration of food security and the nutritional needs of urban residents, particularly the urban poor, in urban and territorial planning, to end hunger and malnutrition. We will promote coordination of sustainable food security and agriculture policies across urban, peri-urban and rural areas to facilitate the production, storage, transport and marketing of food to consumers in adequate and affordable ways to reduce food losses and prevent and reuse food waste. We will further promote the coordination of food policies with energy, water, health, transport and waste policies, maintain the genetic diversity of seeds and reduce the use of hazardous chemicals, and implement other policies in urban areas to maximize efficiencies and minimize waste.”

Continue reading “Winds of change, or more of the same? Urbanization and rural transformation in the context of emerging global initiatives”

Human Rights to Geneva – Food Security to Rome?

By Carolin Anthes

This entry is part of a special series of blog posts about the UN’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS): The Future of the CFS? Collectively reflecting on the directions of UN’s most inclusive body. Read more about this project here. This is not an exclusive project. If you would like to participate, please let us know:

After a minor diversion last week to look at Local Public Policies for Food Sovereignty, in this post, Carolin Anthes brings us back to the CFS and to the role of human rights therein, but also makes important links to the UN system more broadly.

FAO Headquarters, Rome (Credit: C. Anthes, 2016)

During the plenary discussion at the 43rd CFS, the Russian delegate stated that human rights “should be dealt with by the specialized bodies of the UN system”. In other words: Human rights should be a matter dealt with in Geneva, not in Rome. A bold statement that is symptomatic for the contested status of human rights and the right to food approach at CFS and the Rome-based UN food agencies. The current Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver, also stressed at a CFS side event that the human rights approach was very much in danger these days and urged everyone “to pay more attention”.

In this post I invite you to pay attention to two interrelated, and in my view highly problematic, developments which contribute to and are at the same time an expression of the contestation of a human rights-based approach to food security and hunger reduction: 1) “forum shopping” by member states, and 2) FAO’s reluctance to mainstream human rights in its operations.

Let’s go “forum shopping”…

Russia is not alone, various member states engage in a strategic practice of “forum shopping” across different UN localities, which runs opposite to the cross-cutting integration of human rights in the UN system and especially in its development work (referred to as human rights mainstreaming). Enabled by the deeply fragmented setup of the UN system, these states are trying to refer an issue to another UN agency or forum as witnessed during the CFS plenary with the Russian statement. It negated per se that human rights have a place in Rome, thus fuelling the contestation of the right to food in Rome-based agencies.

But such practice is not at all limited to the CFS or Rome-based agencies. A multi-sited focus (which I try to embrace in my current academic research) shows clearly that Geneva – the human rights ‘hub’ of the UN system – and its processes have also been victim of member states’ attempts to engage in “forum shopping”, just the other way around.

During the first two sessions of the Human Rights Council’s working group on a new peasant rights declaration, the United States and the European Union, for example, repeated like a mantra that the Geneva human rights fora were not appropriate for discussing the issues of peasants, seeds and land, which were matters of Rome.

We witnessed a clear attempt to obstruct the further evolution of the human rights agenda towards including (collective) human rights to land, seeds etc. for particularly marginalized populations, simply by referring the substantive issue to “non-human rights” UN agencies in Rome. In the light of the established universality, indivisibility, interdependence and interrelatedness of all human rights and the human rights mainstreaming initiative, these tendencies of “forum shopping” are highly problematic and symptomatic for the volatile status of human rights, and in particular economic, social and cultural as well as collective rights.

Palais des Nations, Geneva (Credit: C. Anthes, 2016)

Beyond rhetoric? FAO’s uncertain buy-in to human rights

States, their practices and attitudes are important when we aim at understanding why human rights and the right to food approach are (still) being challenged at the CFS and in the Rome-based food agencies. But they are not the only (f)actors that matter. It is important to take into account and “zoom in” the connected institutional environment, the actual inner workings of the UN food agencies that are expected to advocate for and implement a right to food approach – in particular the FAO, the institutional home of the CFS.

How do organizational structures and cultures shape FAO’s buy-in to a right to food approach? How strong indeed is the backing within the FAO secretariat, including senior management, and how far has the mainstreaming of human rights in the organization actually advanced by now (beyond rhetoric)? This is up for debate. There are signs that FAO largely sees itself as a “technical” agency, which is still perceived as being irreconcilable with “political” human rights work. In this context, the right to food approach often has a difficult standing and is being side-lined within the FAO bureaucracy.

The momentum spurred by the adoption of the Right to Food Guidelines in 2004 has undeniably slowed down in recent years. In the CFS Plenary, FAO demonstrated impressively its focus and know-how on the “indicators & statistics” side of food security governance work and announced plans for investments in a new Office of Chief Statistician. At the same time, the Right to Food Team, the entity that is actually entrusted with human rights mainstreaming and the strengthening of the right to food portfolio within the organization and beyond, suffers from a serious resource and priority shortage. FAO could indeed do more to promote a right to food approach and it should be noted that its (in-)actions and prioritization also have serious repercussions on the state of human rights at the CFS and beyond. It would be short-sighted to leave “human rights work” to Geneva-based mechanisms. The integration of a strong right to food approach may change how business is done and help to make FAO’s interventions towards a world without hunger more sustainable.

Human rights belong to Rome as much as food security matters to Geneva.


Credit: C Anthes 2016



Carolin Anthes is Research Associate and PhD Candidate at the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF), Germany. She conducts research on human rights mainstreaming in the UN system with a focus on Rome-based UN agencies and the inter-agency link to Geneva. Prior to joining PRIF she worked as Right to Food Consultant in FAO headquarters in Rome.

Going for the Goal: The Rise of the SDGs as a Policy Frame at the CFS

By Nadia Lambek and Jessica Duncan

This entry is part of a special series of blog posts about the UN’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS): The Future of the CFS? Collectively reflecting on the directions of UN’s most inclusive body. Read more about this project here. This is not an exclusive project. If you would like to participate, please let us know:

This week we continue with the cluster CFS, a rights-oriented body? In this post Nadia Lambek and Jessica Duncan reflect on potential implications for the CFS policy interventions revolve around the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and related goals, and not explicitly around rights.



This year we noted with interest that many interventions at the CFS (from governments, but also the private sector) were made with reference to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and in particular SDG 2. While it is hard for us to assess the relevance of this for CFS policy outcomes as these were negotiated before the main meeting, it is clear that links to the SDGs are being used to legitimise interventions within the CFS and to ground (at least publically) policy recommendations.

What is noteworthy about this development is that SDGs are being referenced to not only ground interventions and policy recommendations, but also to highlight the importance of combating hunger. In many respects, this points to a degree of coherence and commitment within this international space. However, it also raises questions about what it means when interventions are linked to goals and not rights.  

We are interested in understanding the potential ramifications of this trend and how might it impact CFS policy making. It is not clear yet – but we offer some initial reflections here.  We begin by comparing and contrasting the SDGs and the right to food as framing and policy tools.  We then examine two implications of the trend that give us cause for concern.

Rights vs Goals

While the SDGs and the right to food both seek to end hunger, they have different purposes. To understand these, it is important to first distinguish between rights and goals.

A goal is a desired aim or ambition. The SDGs are said to represent a “universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity”. The SDGs are interconnected and provide guidelines and targets for all countries to adopt.  SDG 2 aims to “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture” by 2030. The SDGs are to be implemented through the “Global Partnership for Sustainable Development”, bringing together Governments, the private sector, civil society, the United Nations system and other actors and mobilizing all available resources (see paragraph 39).

Human rights are inalienable rights that we have by virtue of being equal and having dignity.  The right to food is “is realized when every man, woman and child,alone or in community with others, have physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement.” Adequate food is not about a “minimum package of calories, proteins and other specific nutrients”, rather it is determined with reference to the “prevailing social, economic, cultural, climatic [and] ecological” of the concerned population. The right to food is recognized throughout international law, most notably in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 25) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) (Article 11). It places a series of obligations on states to respect, protect and fulfil the right to food.  

A rights-based approach represents a longer-term and structural approach to addressing food insecurity and malnutrition that encourages states to pass legislation and national policies, to ensure recourse mechanisms are available to hold the state accountable, and to progressively realize the right to food (which ensures a continual and growing commitment to addressing the realization of the right to food).

We note that the preamble of the SDGs does contain rights-based language, however this language is not translated into the goals themselves, where human rights, at least for SDG 2, are not mentioned. Continue reading “Going for the Goal: The Rise of the SDGs as a Policy Frame at the CFS”

Squaring the Universality of Human Rights and Hunger with Delegate Representation at the CFS

By Nadia Lambek

This entry is part of a special series of blog posts about the UN’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS): The Future of the CFS? Collectively reflecting on the directions of UN’s most inclusive body. Read more about this project here.

This week we inaugurate the thematic cluster CFS, a rights-oriented body? Nadia Lambek’s provocative entry discusses universality – a key principle of international human-rights body and other global processes, such as 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The North-South divide found at CFS representation carriers important implications for the effectiveness and legitimacy of the Committee, she argues.

This is not an exclusive project. If you would like to participate, please let us know:

At the opening session of the 43rd CFS, in a room crowded with representatives of ministries of agriculture, food and livestock, the United States representative to the CFS made her introduction.  The head of the US delegate was not from the US Department of Agriculture or from the Food and Drug Administration. She was the Director of the Peace Corps – a volunteer program run by the United States government, which sends volunteers (mostly recent university graduates) to the Global South to live and work in communities.


Hunger is not a new problem in the USA

By Unknown or not provided (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This made a stark impression on me. Why was the head of the US delegation from the Peace Corps?  In fact, not one of the US’s 23 person official delegation to the CFS had a mandate concerning domestic issues within the US. Certainly the US is no stranger to food insecurity within its own borders. According to the US Department of Agriculture, 12.7 percent of American households were food insecure at some point during 2015. Yet it didn’t bring any delegate knowledgeable about domestic food insecurity or with any mandate to address it.

The US is not alone in this respect.  Looking at the official delegate list of people attending the CFS, one thing is clear: countries in the Global South send representatives from their ministries of agriculture, fisheries, livestock or food, while countries from the Global North tend to send representatives from foreign affairs or international development agencies.

This divide tells us a lot about how countries view food security, the role of the CFS and their human rights obligation – but it also has a lot of implications for the CFS and its effectiveness, particularly as a body with a human rights mandate.  I highlight some of these concerns below: Continue reading “Squaring the Universality of Human Rights and Hunger with Delegate Representation at the CFS”

Fundamental but still contentious: Right to Food at the CFS

This blog was originally posted here on the Event Blog of the Committee on World Food Security. It was written by Nadia Lambek and Jessica Duncan.

CFS in action (photo by X. Jiang)
CFS42 (photo by X. Jiang)

When the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) reformed in 2009 it identified the promotion of the right to food as one of its goals. This was an important development, as recognizing human rights is fundamental to achieving food security.


Despite this development, however, the issue of human rights is still contentious within the CFS. Participants continue to clash over whether to include human rights in the CFS’s outputs and on whether or not to adopt a rights-based perspective in making policy recommendations.

Observers attending the first plenary session of the CFS might have been surprised to see that very few governments chose to mention human rights and the right to food in their opening addresses.  Indeed, these were only mentioned a handful of times and only by a few players, such as the Civil Society Mechanism, the Chair and a few countries, including Venezuela, Brazil and Norway.

But what do we mean by the right to food? What are the implications of a rights-based approach to food policy? And why is it so contentious?

What is the right to food?

The right to food is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (art. 25), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (art. 11) and a myriad of other international agreements.  The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights identifies the main principles of the right to food in General Comment No. 12.

Tlarge_vgrtf_enhe right to food is generally understood as the right to feed oneself with dignity. The United Nations has defined the right to food as being “realized when every man, woman and child, alone or in community with others, has physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement.”

What are the implications for food policy?

The right to food has many implications for food policy.

First, the right to food requires that states that take account of the most marginalized and vulnerable in society when adopting policy.

Second, the right to food places a number of obligations on states. It requires that states:

  • Respect the right to food (the obligation not to take measures that harm access to food);
  • Protect the right to food (the obligation to take measures to ensure third parties do not harm access to food); and,
  •  Fulfill the right to food (the obligation to both proactively engage in activities to strengthen access to food and to provide food when an individual or group is unable to access adequate food alone).

These obligations should be adopted into law, but they should also guide and underscore all food policy. Individuals and groups should be able to hold states accountable when they fail to meet these obligations.

Third, the right to food requires that states “take steps to achieve progressively the full realization of the right to adequate food”. States are obliged to take all necessary steps to the maximum of their available resources to ensuring the right to food. Food policies are tools states can use to progressively realize this right.

So why is the right to food contentious?

The right to food is contentious because it requires states to take a number of steps that will fundamentally transform how they currently address food security, and food policy more broadly. States are also concerned they will be held accountable for failing to meet these obligations. For these reasons, states resist including the right to food in the CFS outputs.

Will the right to food continue to be contentious at CFS43? Watch this space…

Want to know more about the right to food?

Check out the following:


For a “deep dive” into the issue, see this super article by Nadia Lambek and Priscilla Claeys:  Institutionalizing a Fully Realized Right to Food: Progress, Limitations, and Lessons Learned from Emerging Alternative Policy Models


From Uniformity to Diversity


By Adi.simionov – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0


A new report was just released by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES): From uniformity to diversity: A paradigm shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecological systems.
The report asks three key questions:
  1. What are the outcomes of industrial agriculture / diversified agroecological systems?
  2. What is keeping industrial agriculture in place?
  3. How can the balance be shifted?
 Key messages include:
  • What is required is a fundamentally different model of agriculture based on diversifying farms and farming landscapes, replacing chemical inputs, optimizing biodiversity and stimulating interactions between different species, as part of holistic strategies to build long-term fertility, healthy agro-ecosystems and secure livelihoods, i.e. ‘diversified agroecological systems’.
  • Political incentives must be shifted in order for these alternatives to emerge beyond the margins. A series of modest steps can collectively shift the centre of gravity in food systems.
Read the full report
Read the key messages, also available in French and Spanish