Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Congress Overwhelmingly Approves Constitutional Right to Food

Wait a minute?!!!!  Did Congress really do that?!!!!

Unfortunately, that vote did not take place in Washington...

...but in Mexico City.

Or should we say that the glass is half full.  Fortunately, the legislative body in one country decided that the right to food is so important that they made it part of the law of the land.  In April, the Mexican Senate and Chamber of  Deputies overwhelmingly approved amendments to Articles 3, 4, and 27 of the Mexican Constitution that would enact a Right to Food in Mexico. (If you don't read Spanish, here is a link to an English-language version of an article).

This is not a new concept.  The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) embraces the Right to Food and has even developed a Web site to promote the concept.  The FAO offers a handbook that reviews the legal protection of the right to food at national level, through constitutional provisions, national legislation and the direct applicability of international law. 

The FAO also offers the Brazilian study Exigibildade, an advocacy tool that provides practical examples on how to implement the right to food at country level.

This vote in Mexico and the FAO program are very much in line with Goal 1 of the UN Millennium Development Goals, which is to Eradicate Extreme Hunger and Poverty.

Granted, the vote is mostly symbolic.  Now comes the hard work. Mexico is going to have to spend the money and implement policies that will give poor people access to nutritious food.  That is going to be a tall order in a country where 40 million people suffer from malnutrition.  But legislators are on the right track.  They have proposed a special commission to discuss steps on how to proceed. There will be tough questions, such as determining whether treaties like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other international agreements are obstacles to the ability of citizens to feed themselves.  (Mexico used to be self-sufficient in corn production before joining the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which is the predecessor of the World Trade Organization.)

And yet, the very presence of language of the Right to Food in the Constitution lets people in Mexico know that they have a right to demand that their government take the steps necessary to ensure everyone in the country is offered access to basic nutrition.  That's a good start and a commitment that we lack in the United States.

But let's for a moment imagine that a vote on the Right to Food took place on Capitol Hill.  Could we make promote access to food with the same passion that we defend freedom of speech and religion, the right to bear arms and the right not to incriminate ourselves?  

A vote on the Right to Food would indeed  be the opposite of what is taking place now, where legislators, on the pretense of balancing the budget, are going after the programs that affect the most vulnerable, including nutrition and food assistance.  Now, don't get me wrong. I think balancing the budget is noble goal.  But they're doing it at the expense of the programs that affect the most vulnerable populations in our country.  

Think about it. Wouldn't iit be magnificent if we had a Right to Food in our Constitution?

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