Healthy and Sustainable Food: Reducing the Environmental Impacts of the Global Food System on Human Rights


Food systems are one of the main reasons we are failing to stay within our planet’s ecological boundaries… The fallout of the assault on our planet is impeding our efforts to eliminate poverty and imperiling food security.”
UN Secretary General, The State of the Planet, 2020

Agreement now exists that human rights norms apply to a broad spectrum of environmental issues, including the adverse impacts of the global food system. The Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, Dr. David Boyd, is working to provide additional clarity regarding the substantive rights and obligations that are essential to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. He has submitted reports on clean air, a safe climate, a healthy biosphere, safe and sufficient water, and good practices on the promotion and implementation of the right to a healthy and sustainable environment. He is now preparing a thematic report focusing on human rights and associated obligations related to the adverse environmental impacts of the global food system. For that purpose, he is seeking inputs on the topic from States and stakeholders through responses to the brief questionnaire below.

Your replies will inform the Special Rapporteur’s analysis and contribute to his report, which will be presented to the UN General Assembly later in 2021.

Summary of the report

In the present report, A/76/179, the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, David R. Boyd, identifies healthy and sustainable food as one of the substantive elements of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. He describes the catastrophic environmental and health consequences of industrial food systems, unhealthy diets and food waste and the associated consequences for the enjoyment of human rights, with disproportionate adverse effects on vulnerable and marginalized groups. He highlights procedural and substantive State obligations related to ensuring healthy and sustainable food, as well as the responsibilities of businesses. He identifies good practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance carbon sinks, improve air and water quality, reduce water use, restore soil health, protect and revitalize biodiversity, decrease the use of pesticides, fertilizers and antibiotics and reduce the risk of zoonotic diseases. He emphasizes transformative actions that will concurrently contribute to progress on multiple Sustainable Development Goals, resulting in healthy, equitable and sustainable food systems

Preparation of the report

The Special Rapporteur sought inputs on the topic through a call for contributions.

Key questions and types of input sought

The Special Rapporteur invites and welcomes your answers to the following questions:

  1. Examples of ways in which the environmental impacts of the global food system are having adverse impacts on human rights. Adversely affected rights could include, among others, the rights to life, health, water and sanitation, food, culture, livelihoods, non-discrimination, a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and Indigenous peoples' rights. 
  2. To protect a wide range of human rights, what are the specific obligations of States and responsibilities of businesses in terms of preventing, reducing, or eliminating environmental impacts caused by the unsustainable production or consumption of food? How can we shift to food systems that restore and regenerate nature rather than degrading ecosystems, while providing healthy  diets for a global population that will exceed nine billion by 2050? 
  3. Please provide specific examples of constitutional provisions, legislation, institutions, regulations, standards, jurisprudence, policies and programmes that apply a rights-based approach to ensuring healthy and sustainably produced food. Please include, inter alia, any instruments that refer directly to the right to a healthy environment.

Inputs received

Find all submissions received from States, international organizations and other stakeholders in response to the call for inputs:

Special Procedures
Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment
Recent Thematic Reports
Contact Information

Mr. David R. Boyd
Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment
Palais des Nations, 8-14, Avenue de la Paix. 1211 Geneva 10
+41 22 917 9159
Follow @SRenvironment on Twitter

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