GENTECH archive 8.96-97


Interesting report from World Food Summit in Rome

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 6 Dec 1996 06:04:36 -0800 (PST)
From: Mark Ritchie <>

Reflections on the World Food Summit
Mark Ritchie, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

When the head of FAO called for a world summit on food and hunger
nearly two years ago, no one could have predicted last summer's
grain shortage,(which drove prices to the highest level in 25
years), nor the terrible war and resulting starvation in Zaire
and Rwanda. Both events were on the minds of many of the
government delegates and NGOs at the World Food Summit, reminding
everyone of the unfulfilled promises of previous global
gatherings on food. One of the most quoted statements in Rome was
U.S. Secretary of State Kissinger's 1974 World Food Conference
promise that within ten years no person would go to bed hungry. 

While it is not possible to capture the full flavor and
significance of all of the events that surrounded the Rome World
Food Summit, I want to share a few observations and my overall
assessment. There were a number of important developments that
need to be widely discussed by those of us active on food, land,
and environment issues. 

Like other global meetings sponsored by the United Nations, such
as the Earth Summit and the Women's Summit, this event had both
an official summit and an NGO Forum. 

Analysis of the documents and speeches from both the official
summit and the NGO forum reveals important areas of agreement
between NGOs and governments and some strong disagreements. A
close look at these can give a sense of the current state of
affairs in global food politics. 


The most important area of agreement was the strong expression of
the need to start discussing the issue of hunger in the context
of human rights, specifically the economic, social and cultural
rights guaranteed under the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights, and the Covenant of Economic, Social, and
Cultural Rights. In fact, the lone voice in opposition to this
view was the United States government which single-handedly
blocked insertion of this consensus position into the final
official document. 

Despite strong pressure from NGOs in the United States, the
Clinton Administration refused to accept the concept of food
security as a human right. The head of the U.S. delegation,
Melinda Kimball from the State Department, went so far as to say
that the recently enacted Welfare Reform Law, which President
Clinton supported, would not support the idea of food security as
a human right. The U.S. government opposed including this concept
in the official Summit declaration, fearing that it would subject
the U.S. to human rights violation scrutiny. 

But apart from the U.S. government, there was incredible
consensus among governments and NGOs for making "the human right
to food" the chief demand and commitment to come out of the
Summit. In the official Plan of Action, for example, the UN
Commissioner for Human Rights was given the task of pulling
together all of the global agencies to tackle the implementation
of the Right to Food. In his speech to the NGO Forum, the chair
of FAO's Food Security Committee, Chile's Ambassador to FAO
described the incredible level of support for making the Right to
Food the central demand of a global campaign involving both
governments and NGOs. He stated that he would take this concept
to all of the important UN forums over the next few years to move
this agenda forward, despite U.S. government opposition. 

At the NGO session, workshops and discussions on the Right to
Food were extremely well attended, ending with agreement on a
global campaign. 


The most glaring disagreements between governments and NGOs was
on the specifics of what to do about hunger and shortages. Most
governments still think of hunger as a production shortfall
problem, and therefore their final recommendations are mostly
old-fashioned ideas about how to boost production. The U.S.
government, for example, argued that the solution to the problem
of hunger is more intensive production (using more biotechnology,
pesticides, artificial fertilizers, irrigation, etc.), greater
freedom for the transnational food corporations, and faster
de-regulation (liberalization) of food trade. 

In contrast, the NGOs stated in many different venues and
situations that these three exact same elements -- chemical and
energy-intensive industrialized farming, lack of regulation of
transnationals, and de-regulated or liberalized trade are the
causes of many of the current problems and called for reform of
domestic and international policies to reduce the
industrialization of farming, to regulate inappropriate behavior
of transnationals, and to base food trade on the principles of
food security, not neo-liberal trade theory. 

Where Do We Go From Here 

There is no-near term accommodation that can solve or even paper
over the differences. There is a near religious fervor to U.S.
government pronouncements about the need to "unleash the
corporations and technology," while most NGOs and other
governments believe that this can only make matters worse. But
there is some room to maneuver by building upon the level of
agreement on promising proposals such as a Code of Conduct on the
Right to Food, and the negotiation of a Convention on Sustainable
Food Security. The Code of Conduct would cover all actors from
NGOs and global corporations, to national governments and the
global lending institutions like the World Bank. The momentum
from this initiative can help move toward a broader approach
offered by the Convention based firmly in global cooperation,
making food security, not more de-regulated trade, the highest
priority on the international agenda. 

Latin American governments are continuing to push the Right to
Food agenda at the official level, despite U.S. government
opposition, while a working group of NGOs has been formed out of
the Rome Summit to continue to move this agenda in the broader
society. This continued momentum, in the face of powerful U.S.
government opposition, is truly cause for hope. It is time to
turn good ideas and hope into reality. Hunger, like slavery, is a
human rights violation and must be abolished by whatever means
necessary. The creation of hunger by governments (or by the
multilateral institutions they create) is unacceptable and must
be challenged at every opportunity. 

Specific campaign plans are to be developed to promote both the
Code of Conduct and the Convention on Food Security. For more
information contact Michael Windfuhr from FIAN International and
Karen Lehman from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

FIAN International
PO Box 102243
D/69012 Heidelberg, Germany
49-6221-830620 Phone   49-6221-830545 Fax

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
2105 First Avenue South
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404 USA
1-612-870-3403 Phone   1-612-870-4846 Fax

Karen Lehman
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
2105 First Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55404 USA
main tel. 612-870-0453
direct tel. 612-870-3403
fax. 612-870-4846

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