The Right to Food

If we want better lives for all, we need to set consumers around the table, says FAO

Experts' corner - 11.05.2021

FAO Right to Food Team behind the scene

11 May 2021, Rome-  In this interview, Claire Mason, FAO Right to Food Specialist, explains why consumers are important for the right to food.  

This interview showcases the work carried out by the Team in the area of consumers, activities planned and expected outcomes. The Team started in 2020 to engage with these organizations and deems them as vital partners. This is connected with areas of work newly explored like private sector.

The work of FAO on the right to food underpins a cross-cutting approach that addresses multiple sectors and actors. Can you explain which is the relationship of consumer organizations with the right to food and how they can contribute to the realization of this human right?

Claire Mason: Thank you for this opportunity and hello!

Consumer organizations are really key actors in all of this. The right to adequate food relates closely to their work on food and to the issues that consumers need to know more about. Issues such as food safety, healthy diets, food labelling, fair pricing, reducing food waste, sustainable farming and transforming food systems; as well as legal protective mechanisms, equality and non-discrimination, agency and empowerment are all highly relevant to ensuring that everyone has economic and physical access at all times to adequate food or the means to procure it. They are all issues addressed in the CFS-Right to Food Guidelines of 2004 which serve to support countries and all stake holders to deliver on this right for all people through facilitative policy and legislative measures.

If we want better production, better nutrition, while also ensuring a better environment for better lives for all, we need to get everyone on board. This means providing clear information and incentives to change practices and behaviour –of consumers as well as the food industry. Consumer organizations represent a wide and diverse body of stakeholders, and have broad outreach networks, they are experienced in getting information across to consumers, as well as representing the consumer voice, placing pressure on governments and the private sector to protect people for example from poor quality and hazardous foods and exploitative business practices, as well as promoting healthy diets, sustainable and fairer business practices.

"If we want better production, better nutrition,

while also ensuring a better environment for better lives for all,

we need to get everyone on board".


Consumer organizations are already contributing massively to achievement of the right to food at the national level. Advising the public about their food rights, empowering people to understand the role and agency they have to bring about important change for the better of all, and informing and raising awareness of rights and responsibilities as empowered consumers, and the inadequacies of current food systems, all has impact, as does the participation and engagement of consumer organizations with national initiatives for safe food, or food security and nutrition, through for example CODEX or national plans to combat malnutrition in all its forms. In this way consumer organizations are real champions for securing the right to adequate food.

What is specific of consumer organizations that should be taken into consideration?

CM: I think one of the most important things about consumer organizations is their capacity for engaging across the board with all sectors. Ultimately, we are all consumers, including the poorest among us and those laboring in the most complex and difficult of environments, as well as the richest, the leaders of industry and governments. Consumer organizations speak to all of us. They are ideally placed to inform and empower consumers as well as to capture the consumer voice, and to channel consumer needs, their experiences and behaviour into negotiations with the food industry and governments. In this way, more people can be reached as well as crucially the private sector and governments in relation to bettering the lives of all through consumer incentives and healthier choices, as well as stronger industry commitments which respect the rights of all.

"Consumer organizations speak to all of us".


Partnerships are at the heart of FAO’s mission to help build consensus for a world without hunger, as well as the Sustainable Development Goals. Why is important for FAO to partner up with consumer organizations? 

CM: FAO does great work in partnership with others, including parliamentarians, academics, civil society and the private sector. Despite important global progress, there is so much still to be done and COVID-19 has had such a dramatic and rapid impact in terms of deteriorating livelihoods for so many. Game changing action is really needed and this means ramping up our impact. Consumer organizations who reach out to so many and represent all of us as consumers, are a fantastic ally and partner to have.

Through partnering with consumer organizations, we can reach out to more people and bring a human rights perspective to food and agriculture, in support of the awareness raising and policy engagement activities of consumer organizations, by providing a series of accessible tools and references. This will add to existing strengths so that consumer organizations may build even more momentum towards a world where no one is left behind. This in turn can support countries to reach their SDG commitments. 

How can consumer organizations strengthen the drive for greater private sector accountability?

CM: Engagement with the private sector, recommending the inclusion of best practices or human rights safeguards can lead to better protection of people’s human rights including the right to adequate food. Consumer organizations bring valuable information, expert insight and knowledge to the decision-making table. They are well-placed to negotiate with private sector and governments and their contributions to the formulation and implementation of global, regional and national plans and policies for food security and nutrition can protect and secure the right to adequate food now and in the future.

In your opinion, which role should they have in the discussions of the Food Systems Summit?

CM: Hearing from consumer organizations is also fundamental to the discussion around transformations of food systems. They can give a holistic vision of the food value chain from farmer to consumer through diverse goods and services. This year is of particular relevance then given the UN Food Systems Summit of 2021. The UNFSS can be an opportunity to address current problems from farm to fork, using a rights-based perspective. Given the enormous capacity of human kind in innovation, technology and science; broadening the definition of progress to incorporate respect for people’s rights and human dignity will really be key to a better future for all, leaving no-one behind. This will also help to get countries back on track in relation to the SDGs. Consumer organizations are really strong partners to support such action.

"The UNFSS can be an opportunity to address current

problems from farm to fork, using a rights-based perspective".


This is an area of work that has just kicked off for the Right to Food Team, can you give us some examples of what you have been carrying on?

CM: We have been working with consumer organizations in coordination with the Partnerships Division and within the framework of the MoU between Consumers International and FAO. As such, we have already liaised with many consumer organizations working on food issues around the globe to highlight how important their work is towards the goals of FAO and its member countries. Consumer organizations have made important inroads into stronger policy and legislation around more stringent food labelling, to combat food fraud, the misuse of pesticides or overuse of antibiotics and in consumer education among a variety of other gains.

"FAO Right to Food Team supports consumer organizations

in capacity building and networking".


We have held our first webinar meeting with five leading consumer organizations in Africa, bringing them to the table with FAO colleagues and experts in five African countries, the regional office for Africa and HQ colleagues. This proved to be a really great space for potential collaborations, raising awareness on FAO actions and plans at national, regional and global level as well as hearing what issues are of most importance to our consumer organization colleagues. It has also been a very constructive collaboration between FAO teams – with the Right to Food Team under ESP working closely with the Food Safety and Food Systems division (ESF), on food safety, the urban food agenda, the food systems summit and food waste, as well as with the Nutrition division on healthy diets (ESN). We have also been able to garner support and participation from experts in the field offices. It shows how working together from a rights perspective can really build greater impact and momentum for change.

What are the next steps for the Right to Food´s work on consumer organizations? And what are main challenges and opportunities you envisage?

CM: Our forthcoming publication, Consumer organizations and the right to adequate food – making the connection, will provide reference materials and orientation around the many aspects on food issues. This responds to a need identified by many of the consumer organizations working in developing nations for capacity building tools. It is also designed to be used alongside other FAO training materials. There are so many useful tools that offer so much and making connections to some of these is part of the plan. Secondly, we will release a platform – Consumer organizations in action-, which showcases the work of some of the consumer organizations around the world. This is hoped to be as much of service to consumer organizations and Consumers International, wishing to network and partner up on food issues, as to FAO offices and other stakeholders who may find common areas upon which to build momentum towards effective change.

Apart from these publications, we hope very much to replicate the webinar meetings over the course of the next 12 months in Asia Pacific and Latin America and the Caribbean, where already there have been some fantastic alliances between FAO and consumer organizations on the issue of healthy diets and private sector dialogues. Finally, we plan to link up consumer organizations with intensive capacity building sessions in priority areas of FAO specialisms and expertise, depending on needs.

About Claire Mason

Claire is a lawyer, and specialist in human rights, gender, and inclusive development.  She has lived and worked in Mexico, Guatemala, and Chile, on local, national, and regional programmes across Latin America and the Caribbean. She has been collaborating with FAO since 2014, initially in the Regional Office for LAC, in Santiago, Chile, supporting implementation of the Regional Strategic Programmes and the Initiative for a Hunger Free Latin America and the Caribbean. Claire joined the Right to Food Team at Headquarters in 2019. Based in Geneva, she is from the United Kingdom.

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