Council holds interactive dialogue with Special Rapporteur on food
Wednesday, 10 March 2010 17:31


de-SchutterOn 5 March, the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Mr Olivier de Schutter, presented his annual report to the Human Rights Council (the Council). The report focused on the topic of agribusiness and the role of commodity buyers, food processors and retailers in the realisation of the right to food. Mr de Schutter highlighted the increasing demand for primary agricultural goods, access to food for poorer populations and environmental challenges including impoverishment of the land and climate change as the three main challenges currently confronted by States in realising the right to food. He expressed his concern that the current food system is serving to increase social inequalities and contributing to the marginalisation of vulnerable social groups including small farmers. The Special Rapporteur outlined a series of recommendations to assist in addressing these challenges, including strengthening labour rights for agricultural workers, supporting small family-style agriculture, and better regulating the behaviour of all actors in the agricultural production and distribution chain. The Special Rapporteur also made brief mention of his country visits to Benin, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Brazil.


Speaking as concerned countries, Benin, Guatemala and Nicaragua were generally receptive to the Special Rapporteur’s mission reports and commended the relevance of his recommendations. In contrast, Brazil made a strong statement, later repeated during the interactive dialogue, criticising the report of the Special Rapporteur for a perceived lack of objectivity and balance. In particular, Brazil argued that the report’s focus had shifted from the issue of food security to other issues, which it said are ‘only slightly related’ to the realisation of the right to food in Brazil. Brazil further contended that the report was written from a perspective promoting protectionist approaches to agricultural trade policy, and that the Special Rapporteur was misusing his mandate and independence to ‘advance the trade interests of [the European] region’.


Several other States also made reference to the role of the international trade system in promoting the right to food. Argentina (on behalf of MERCOSUR) and Egypt (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement) underlined the need to minimise the negative impact of protectionist policies and trade distortions on the right to food, while Cuba and Syria recommended increasing dialogue with international organisations, including the World Trade Organisation (WTO), in promoting a human rights perspective to food policy.


Responding in particular to Brazil, the Special Rapporteur stressed the importance for all States, including developing countries, to regain the possibility to produce for themselves, and highlighted his previous work denouncing agricultural subsidies by States. He further cautioned Brazil against using the issue of trade and its attacks on the independence of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur as ‘diversions’ from addressing important domestic issues with regard to the realisation of the right to food in Brazil.


Many States expressed agreement with the Special Rapporteur on the issue of the imbalance of power in the agribusiness sector (Republic of Korea, Algeria) and emphasised the need to reinforce the bargaining power of small holders (Republic of Korea, Indonesia, Syria). States expressed particular concern on the issue of the increase in large-scale land acquisitions and leases following the 2008 global food price crisis (EU, Egypt (on behalf of the non-aligned movement, NAM), Pakistan (on behalf of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference), Senegal). This topic was the focus of an addendum to the report of the Special Rapporteur in which he developed a set of minimum principles to address the human rights challenges on this issue. The Special Rapporteur stated that he would continue to develop this issue in future reports. He pointed out that while he is in dialogue with the World Bank, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the Food and Agriculture Organisation on this issue, his minimum principles should not be regarded as a substitute for more operational and detailed guidelines to be produced by these bodies.


While some States, including the Republic of Korea, Egypt (on behalf of NAM) and Bangladesh, supported the Special Rapporteur’s focus on the responsibilities and obligations of non-State actors including agribusiness corporations in realising the right to food, others, including the US, the EU and Norway, stressed that the primary human rights responsibility with regard to the right to food rests with States. The US also disagreed with the Special Rapporteur’s position that higher levels of government control over prices and labour markets would benefit food security. It pointed to an increased importance placed on sustainable supply chains for the private sector as evidence of this position.


Cuba and Egypt (on behalf of NAM) stressed the need to consider the environmental dimensions related to the realisation of the right to food. In his replies, the Special Rapporteur agreed to undertake such analysis in his future work.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 August 2010 17:16
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