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The right to adequate food has been affirmed in international treaties and declarations for more than fifty years, and has received increased attention after the World Food Summit called for the clarification of its normative content (objective 7.4 of the World Food Summit Plan of Action). Since then, a substantial amount of conceptual work has been undertaken by FAO, by other bodies, agencies and programmes of the United Nations system (particularly the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, and the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food), and by actors outside the UN system. This work has resulted in a better understanding of the right to adequate food and of its implications.

The “right of everyone to have access to safe and nutritious food” was recently reaffirmed by the Declaration “International Alliance Against Hunger” adopted at the World Food Summit - Five Years Later, which also invited the FAO Council to establish an Intergovernmental Working Group to elaborate voluntary guidelines on the realization of that right. FAO, in collaboration with relevant UN bodies, agencies and programmes, is to assist the Intergovernmental Working Group in its activities.

This study was undertaken by the FAO Legal Office within the broader context of FAO’s activities to clarify the normative content of the right to adequate food. In particular, it builds on Legislative Study No. 68, which was published in 1999 and contains extracts from a wide range of international and regional instruments relating to the right to adequate food. The purpose of this study is to clarify the meaning of the right to adequate food with specific regard to emergency situations, including both natural and man-made disasters.

The study identifies and analyses the applicable principles, rules and standards of international law related to the right to food in emergency situations. In so doing, it draws on several branches of international law, including international human rights, humanitarian, refugee, economic and environmental law. This holistic approach, encompassing bodies of international law that are often treated in isolation, follows the philosophy of Legislative Study 68 and is one of the main contributions of the study. Reference is also made to some principles and standards embodied in internationally recognised codes of conduct, which are not legally binding and are not part of international law.

The study analyses the obligations and responsibilities of States, particularly those affected by natural or man-made disasters, and of non-State actors to realize the right to adequate food, and examines the principles and standards applicable to food and food-related aid programmes.

The target audience is primarily legal professionals and researchers working on human rights and humanitarian law. The study may also be of interest for practitioners involved in training and macro-planning, and may serve as a useful resource for field-oriented guides and training materials.

The study was prepared by Lorenzo Cotula, FAO Consultant, and Margret Vidar, Legal Officer. The authors of this study have sought and received advice and comments on its structure and contents at various stages in the process from a variety of colleagues within FAO and other international organizations, to whom the Legal Office extends its gratitude.

Lawrence Christy
Chief, Development Law Service
Legal Office

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