A historical low for world food security policy

After being heavily pressured by top exporting countries, the UN Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition will fail to pave the way for more sustainable, healthy and just food systems.

Following several weeks of negotiations, the final draft for the UN Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition will be presented for endorsement this week at the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) 47. Far from what was hoped, the Guidelines fall short in providing any substantive basis to bring about transformation to the industrial food system.

The negotiations, which ended last week, were largely dominated by a bloc of exporting countries, including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Russia and the US. Their interventions repeatedly watered down any transformative language proposed by the Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism (CSM) to redefine food systems. This did not only unmask the predisposition of the bloc to defend the interests of corporations in their countries, but also to strengthen the vision of an increasingly globalized food system with global food supply chains, global trade and investment at its core. 

For their part, Least Developed Countries (LDCs) were almost entirely absent from the negotiations with few exceptions such as Senegal and Mali, who strongly supported CSM’s proposals and views. The fact that the process was rushed and informal negotiations sessions were carried out without interpretation did not contribute to a higher participation of LDCs, which often have small permanent representations.

No acknowledgement of what is wrong

As the Guidelines stand now, there is no clear reference to what is wrong with existing industrial food systems and why they are also responsible for the climate crisis, ecological destruction, related pandemics, and for the health crisis, caused by the predominance of diets relying on ultra-processed foods. What’s more, the Guidelines do not recognize food systems as a matter of public interest, even if billions of people depend on it, or include a holistic vision of human rights in food systems, as the UN Rapporteur on the Right to Food warned during the negotiations.

As echoed by civil society, the text is missing any recommendations for strong safeguards against conflict of interest in policy-making, monitoring, science and research. With corporations having more resources at their disposal to influence and lead in these areas, strong safeguards would protect the public interest before any vested economic interests. 

Despite widespread recognition of its potential to face the challenges that the climate and hunger crisis present, the Guidelines also fail to put agroecology at the center of the transformation of unsustainable food systems.

With the negotiations underpinned by a non-inclusive format and continuous attempts to restrict language approved by international law and the CFS itself, the CSM has announced that it would carefully assess whether to endorse the Guidelines or not this week. It is nevertheless clear, that the final agreed document does a poor job in meeting their expectations.

A vision for a true transformation

In order to overcome today’s climate crisis and rising food insecurity, the Guidelines should be assessed and applied considering  some key aspects. This starts by acknowledging the urgent need for radically transforming food systems to make them sustainable and just and by placing human rights as central pillar of this transformation.
Recognizing food systems as public goods implies that countries need to recalibrate public policies towards strengthening local and resilient food systems based on agroecology; and the communal and public economy upon which local and national food systems heavily rely.

The transformation of food systems must be based on the recognition of human beings as part of nature and not as two separate entities. In the context of food systems and nutrition this means that diets can only be healthy if they are also sustainable. This approach recognizes the circular relationship that exists between diets and food systems and constitutes as such the relational anchor between production and consumption, between an individual and the collective, and between people and the environment.

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