You are currently viewing Is there a plant-based right to food ?

Throughout history, humanity has recognised food as a primal need, a fundamental right. However, the journey to secure this access has been compromised by various disturbances, such as wars, climate change, or economic fluctuations.

In light of these challenges, a right to food rose on an international level. Given the imperatives of sustainable development and our consumption patterns, it has been made clear that a meat diet contributes to pollution on a large scale. In response to that ecological but also ethical matter, plant-based diets have gained traction and the number of people claiming it is constantly increasing.

Thus, does the right of food includes a right to a vegetable diet ?


An international right to food

The right to food is an international right. The special reporter on the right of food describes it as “the right to have regular, permanent and unrestricted access—either directly or by means of financial purchases— to quantitatively and qualitatively adequate and sufficient food corresponding to the cultural traditions of the people to which the consumer belongs, and which ensure a physical and mental, individual and collective, fulfilling and dignified life free of fear”.

This implies that food must be available, accessible, and adequate.

The right to food is recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human rights on its article 25, and is also articulated on the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. 156 countries signed it, making them legally bound to respect the right to food and its three obligations : the obligation to respect the right to food, the obligation to protect the right to food, and the obligation to fulfill the right to food.

Moreover, the right to food is transcribed in integrated in several sustainable development goals established the United Nations. The second sustainable development goal aims at achieving zero hunger and the third one focuses on promoting good health and well-being.

The right to food is also a European right, and every country has specific laws to protect this right.

However, the effectiveness of this right is questionable.  For instance, some countries, such as France, tend to mix up the right to food with food aid programs, which is only giving back the surplus production.


The pollution of meat diets and rising of plant-based diets

Throughout history, humans have incorporated animals into their diets. However, for various reasons, people decided to stop eating animals, and/or the products coming from them. Even if vegetarianism and veganism is seen as a Western country trend, it doesn’t stop to that. Beyond ethical and environmental reasons to stop eating meat, there are important factors that pushes people to shift diets. Knowing that meat diets are prone to more health issues, people tend to reduce or stop eating meat. Finally, concerns about  the protection of animal welfare, knowing the conditions they are raised and killed in, may be another reason to shift to a plant-based diet.

We might also add that religious beliefs play a significant role in people’s diets. Whether it is not eating certain types of meat, not eating meat on certain days, or eating halal, a plant-based option is sometimes beneficial for them to align with their beliefs.

Considering those elements, we can say that people’s diets are evolving, and with that, the economy and industry around it. While every culture is different, certain countries tend to naturally plant-based food, such as Mediterranean or Lebanese food. But in other countries, it might me difficult to access a plant-based option, especially in the public field (prisons, hospitals, canteens, etc.).


Towards a plant-based right to food ?

Given the pollution associated with the international food system, the rise of a plant-based right to food is emerging.

However, as previously stated, even the right to food is not completely effective. So how could a plant-based right to food could be put into place ? As thought many initiatives (such as implementing one day of plant-based meals in school in France) it does not mean yet that a vegetable right to food exists.

Moreover, we can wonder if promoting such a right would not have a negative impact on farmers. In an already tense context in the European Union, a transition towards a more vegetable agriculture might result in contestations. Indeed, it would require farmers to adapt their practices and equipment to accommodate to a plant-based agriculture.

This sector is put under the influence of powerful lobbies with a strong meat lobby. It resulted in strong legal disputes in the EU, such as naming “meat” any plant-based products. The strong lobbying can retard the rising of the plant-based industry.

There is also the question of social acceptability. In some cultures, eating meat is the norm. Imposing a plant-based diet could be seen as going against individual rights. The aim of a plant-based right of food should prioritise for people having access to it without imposing barriers or limitations.

The demand for the recognition of a vegetable-based right to food is growing with time. Legal actions keep on increasing with it. Recently, a vegan man that had been sentenced to eleven month of imprisonment and did not have access to a vegan diet, resulting in important health issues. He then took Switzerland to the European Court of Human Rights. Some people thought it could be the recognition of a plant-based right to food.

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A propos de Charlen Chapotot