ENVIRONMENT AND HUMAN RIGHTS DURING ARMED CONFLICT: NORMATIVE AND LEGAL FRAMEWORK

Protection of Right to Food and Environment in Times of Armed Conflict

by Hilal Elver*

The following is the keynote address given by Hilal Elver to the Geneva Academy on June 8, 2022. Footnotes at end of article.

Internal and international armed conflicts are one of the major reasons for increased food insecurity and malnutrition. Despite well-established norms of international human rights law and international humanitarian law protecting the right to food, hunger and  malnutrition, as well as famine has skyrocketed in last few years. There is a shocking failure in addressing criminal acts of deliberate starvation and other severe violations of a fundamental human right: the “right to food.” This non-compliance by States and other political actors as well as the reluctance to implement existing international norms to protect human rights and the environment in times of war is a critical failure of international community.

Most recently, the war in Ukraine has elevated catastrophic hunger and malnutrition levels to the top of the global agenda. The war has raised awareness of ongoing widespread hunger and malnutrition even beyond Ukraine, as the parties to the conflict are the major players of global agricultural trade.

Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights specifically recognizes “the fundamental right of everyone to be from hunger,” which further imposes an obligation on States to ensure “the satisfaction of, at the very least, the minimum essential level” of this right under all circumstances, including the times of war. Freedom from hunger is accepted as part of customary international law, rendering it binding for all states regardless of whether they are party to the Covenant. States cannot put aside or postpone the realization of this core component of the body of economic and social rights. According to their international legal obligations, States must continue to take deliberate and targeted steps using all appropriate means to fulfill these rights, even in times of conflict.  Yet, 60% of the people suffering from hunger and malnutrition globally live in conflict-ridden places, mostly in the Middle East and Africa.

Continue reading “ENVIRONMENT AND HUMAN RIGHTS DURING ARMED CONFLICT: NORMATIVE AND LEGAL FRAMEWORK”

Call for experts – High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition

The High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to world food security and nutrition. 

During its 46th plenary session, the Committee on World Food Security requested the HLPE to produce a report on “Reducing inequalities for food security and nutrition”. As part of the report elaboration process, the HLPE is now calling for interested experts to apply to the ad-hoc Project Team for this report.   

Experts wishing to apply to this call shall find all the information here.

The importance of food literacy

by Rose Sarner* (Guest Blogger)

“It’s one thing to provide people with food and it’s another to teach food literacy.” According to Fast Company, in 2021, “54 million Americans do not have access to healthy food,” and according to NPR, “80 percent of Americans fail to eat the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables.”  

Healthful food and its many benefits are not an everyday reality for many families in the world. Here in the United States, young kids, teens, and adults have little knowledge about the foods they are putting into their bodies, where the food is coming from, or how different foods affect their overall health. The programs that are in place that are supposed to “educate” Americans are not engaging, clear, or very informative and this failing has contributed to the current health and obesity crisis in the United States. Making health sustainable is a multifaceted issue that has many layers. Many individuals fall short of taking care of their health issues because they do not know how to make a life switch and sustain their progress. 

Our schools can play an important role in changing dietary habits by educating students on food literacy.  According to The Centers for Disease and Prevention, “US students receive less than 8 hours of required nutrition education each school year, which is far below the 40–50 hours that are needed to affect behavior change.” Additionally, educators are encouraged to teach nutritional education classes at schools; however, given the important role a person’s consumption of healthy foods has in preventing chronic diseases and supporting good health, ideally, educators would provide students with more hours of nutritional instruction. Research has proven a connection between healthy diets and one’s emotional well-being, and how emotions may influence eating habits (The Centers for Disease and Prevention). Due to the large number of required classes in many schools across the country, administrators and teachers should consider ways to integrate nutrition education into their existing curriculums.  

Continue reading “The importance of food literacy”

Commentary – It is Time for the United States to Learn About the Right to Food.

by Hilal ElverMichael T. RobertsDiana R.H. Winters, and Melissa Shapiro

Cross-posted on HilalElver.org

On US Election Day 2021, the state of Maine voted in favor of a constitutional “right to food”—a historic development for a country that has long refused to recognize the human right to food.

Will the US finally acknowledge that this right actually exists?

Maine is officially the first US state to recognize a right to food. On Election Day this year, more than 60% of voters agreed that Maine should amend the state constitution “to declare that all individuals have a natural, inherent and unalienable right to grow, raise, harvest, produce and consume the food of their own choosing for their own nourishment, sustenance, bodily health and well-being.” Put simply, those in Maine will have agency over how they procure their food within the bounds of food safety laws and quality controls. The “right to food” amendment, which was proposed by Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham (R-Winter Harbor) and received bipartisan support, was welcomed by a diverse constituency comprising small farmers, libertarians, liberals and those who believe that local producers should not have to compete with corporate food interests.

 Observing how Maine practically applies the “right to food” amendment in furtherance of the stated objective is critical. It will be necessary for Maine legislators to work closely with other state agencies to ensure that emerging programs and policies do not violate federal and state laws. It is also important for future decision-making to involve open consultation and participation from civil society and private sector. Being a trailblazer means that the path forward is not always clear; but those who have already dismissed the historic amendment as an empty promise or inoperable language are missing the point: Maine’s constitutional amendment is a transformative step towards the United States’ formal recognition of the human right to food.

Continue reading “Commentary – It is Time for the United States to Learn About the Right to Food.”

Service with FoodCorps

by Lucy Weiss*

With a background in Food Studies, an interest in food law and policy, and a belief in the power of education, I was searching for ways to combine my passions when a professor recommended FoodCorps to me. FoodCorps is an AmeriCorps service fellowship program focusing on student access to healthy food in schools that partners with local community organizations and school districts around the U.S. Service members participate in three primary activities: providing hands-on lessons, encouraging healthy school meals, and promoting a schoolwide culture of health. For example, members teach gardening and cooking and facilitate taste tests of new and different foods, although the COVID-19 pandemic limits some of what we are able to do. A number of service members also work with the cafeteria staff and school districts to ensure healthy food options are available and promoted at school lunches. Each state and site partner have different needs and therefore service varies from position to position. 

Continue reading “Service with FoodCorps”

Addressing Student Food Insecurity with a SNAP

by Kyle Winterboer*

As students return to in-person school, it is an important time to revisit the issue of food insecurity across America’s educational system. Particularly in Higher Education, recent studies suggest student food insecurity levels had reached as high as 38% in Spring 2020 and 5.8 of every 10 students experienced some form of basic needs insecurity. These rates have dramatically increased throughout the duration of the pandemic because students sent home for lock-down no longer had access to the already limited forms of support available in person on campuses.

A common tool used to fight food insecurity is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Despite its successes in reducing hunger and the economic benefits the program introduces to stimulate local economies, SNAP has many limitations and needs reform to better address food insecurity. One such limitation is that policy makers have long denied students access to SNAP. While the past decade has brought some expansions to grant students access, significant barriers remain. Barriers include restrictive student eligibility criteria and mixed messaging that leaves students misinformed of their eligibility. This policy failure leaves students hungry, many of whom would otherwise be eligible for aid if they were not pursuing higher education.

To show the real human impacts of these policy failings, journalist Alejandra Salgado details student stories in an article that appeared in CalMatters and was shared by Civil Eats: Colleges Rush to Sign Students Up for Food Aid, as Pandemic Rules Make More Eligible | Civil Eats

To provide additional context to the policies described in Salgado’s reporting, the below contains insights from Resnick Center Research Assistant Kyle Winterboer in this policy area. This research comes from his time with the student led research advocacy group “unBox”, the assistance of the UCLA CalFresh Initiative, his own application process amidst the pandemic, and from his time implementing a little known policy solution across UCLA departments to better support students in their SNAP applications.

The Resnick Center thanks the unBox Project and the UCLA CalFresh Initiative for readily sharing information for this report, and their continued dedication to the mission of ensuring equitable access to food for all.

Continue reading “Addressing Student Food Insecurity with a SNAP”

Changelab Solutions Webinar on Food Systems and Health Inequity

by Kyle Winterboer*

ChangeLab Solutions works nationwide to bring about healthier and equitable communities through law and policy. Their ongoing six-part virtual engagement series “Uprooting the Structural Drivers of Health Inequity” is focused on ways that organizations and advocates are addressing inequity in their efforts to improve outcomes. Their recent webinar was the fifth installations of the series, was focused on food systems, and featured an expert panel discussing Policy Solutions for a Values-Based Food System.

Previous episodes can be found on their website, and a recording of Monday’s Panel will be made available at: https://www.changelabsolutions.org/product/food-systems

Below find a list of the expert panelists. Additionally, find a summary by one of the Resnick Center’s Summer Research Assistants, Kyle Winterboer, who attended the webinar on Monday, June 28, 2021.

Expert Panel:

  • Jose Oliva, campaigns director, HEAL Food Alliance
  • Karen Bassarab, senior program officer, Food Communities & Public Health, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future
  • Vinny Eng, community organizer and founding member, SF New Deal 
  • Abbey Piner, project lead, Community Food Strategies, Center for Environmental Farming Systems, North Carolina State University
  • LaShauna Austria, Founder, Kindred Seedlings Farm, and Racial Equity Coach, Community Food Strategies
  • Nessia Berner Wong, senior policy analyst, ChangeLab Solutions (moderator)
Continue reading “Changelab Solutions Webinar on Food Systems and Health Inequity”

Repast – New Episode! Protecting the Liver, Feeding the Gut, and Changing Society with Dr. Robert Lustig

Listen to the new episode of Repast, a food law and policy podcast from the Resnick Center.

This month, Michael and Diana talk with Dr. Robert Lustig about his new book, Metabolical, The Lure and the Lies of Processed Food, Nutrition, and Modern Medicine.  They talk about the health harms caused by processed foods and the massive increase in sugar consumption over the last several decades; possible societal interventions to address these problems; how the processed food public health battle is like the battle over tobacco; and more, including Dr. Lustig’s personal advice to all of us as to what healthy foods do: “Protect the liver, feed the gut.”

Dr. Robert Lustig is Professor emeritus of Pediatrics, Division of Endocrinology at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). He specializes in the field of neuroendocrinology, with an emphasis on the regulation of energy balance by the central nervous system.

 Michael T. Roberts is the Executive Director of the Resnick Center for Food Law & Policy at UCLA Law.

 Diana Winters is the Deputy Director of the Resnick Center for Food Law & Policy at UCLA Law.

You can order Dr. Lustig’s new book, Metabolical, here.

You can find Dr. Lustig’s previous book, The Hacking of the American Mind: The Science Behind the Corporate Takeover of Our Bodies and Brains, here, and his book, Fat Chance, here.

2021 California Food Legislation

by Beth Kent*

            The California State Legislature is back in session, and legislators have introduced a number of bills related to food and agriculture. Many of these bills address food insecurity, which has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. A number of bills focus on sustainable agriculture, including phasing out pesticides and protecting agricultural lands. Governor Newsom’s proposed Budget also includes funding for a new approach to pesticide regulation that aims to catalyze the transition to safe and sustainable agriculture.

This is the beginning of the legislative cycle, and bill text and budget priorities are subject to change, but it is exciting to see so many bills that address food and agricultural issues. You can track your bill priorities here, and we will provide an update at the end of the session that summarizes the bills that are passed by the Legislature and approved by the Governor.

Food and the Environment

  • AB-350 (Villapudua) would create a grant program to help landowners in the San Joaquin Valley’s “critically over-drafted basins” meet the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act’s water use reduction goals.
  • AB-352 (Rivas) proposes amendments to the California Farmland Conservancy Program to make the program more accessible to low-income, diverse, and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
  • AB-391 (Villapudua) proposes appropriating $5 million from the Department of Food and Agriculture’s General Fund to provide technical assistance and grants to incentivize participation in state and federal conservation programs that integrate pollinator habitat and forage on working lands.
  • AB-567 (Bauer-Kahan) proposes expanding pesticide regulations to prohibit using neonicotinoids (a type of insecticide that is especially harmful to bees) on seeds and makes the use of neonicotinoids a misdemeanor.
  • AB-1086 (Aguiar-Curry) would require the California Natural Resources Agency to develop an implementation strategy to achieve the State’s organic waste, and related climate change and air quality, goals. The implementation strategy may include recommendations on policy and funding support for the beneficial reuse of organic waste.

Nutrition and Food Security

  • SB-364 (Skinner): Introduced by Senator Skinner and co-authored by Senators Eggman, Hertzberg, Laird, Limón, McGuire, Hueso, Newman, Wieckowski, and Wiener and Assembly Members Berman, Carrillo, Chiu, Cooley, Cooper, Cristina Garcia, Eduardo Garcia, Levine, Nazarian, Quirk-Silva, Reyes, Robert Rivas, Rodriguez, Santiago, Stone, and Villapudua, SB-364 proposes to establish a California Universal School Meal Program, which would continue to make school free breakfast and lunch programs available to all children beyond the COVID-19 public health crisis. It would also establish the Better Out of School Time (BOOST) Nutrition Program to prevent child hunger when schools are not in session.
  • AB-221 (Santiago, Chiu, and R. Rivas): Introduced by Assembly Members Santiago, Chiu, and Robert Rivas and co-authored by Assembly Members Burke, Carrillo, Cristina Garcia, Gipson, Grayson, Kamlager, Luz Rivas, Stone, and Villapudua and Senators Rubio, Dodd, Durazo, and Wiener, AB-221is an urgency statue that would make food assistance benefits available to low-income California residents across the State, regardless of their immigration status. The bill also commissions a study to identify permanent solutions for low-income food assistance programs to address food insecurity throughout the State.
  • SB-108 (Hurtado) would declare that every human being has the right to access sufficient healthy food and require state agencies to revise and adopt policies accordingly.
  • AB-941 (Bennett and R. Rivas): Introduced by Assembly Members Bennett and Robert Rivas and co-authored by Senators Limón and Dodd and Assembly Member Medina, AB-941would establish a grant program to create farmworker resources centers. Resource centers would provide farmworkers and their families information and access to services related to education, housing, payroll and wage rights, and health and human services.
  • AB-1009 (Bloom) would establish the Farm to School Food Hub Program, which would incentivize the creation and permanency of farm to school hubs. Hubs would function as nonprofit aggregators and supply chain intermediaries to distribute food products from farms or ranches to public institutions and nonprofit organizations. The goals of the program are promote food access and to increase the amount of agricultural products available to underserved communities and schools.
  • SB-20 (Dodd) would increase access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program/CalFresh Benefits for low-income community college students by requiring the Student Aid Commission to notify students of their CalFresh eligibility. These requirements are intended to educate students about the availability of CalFresh benefits and to help address food insecurity among low-income community college students.
  • AB-543 (Davies): Introduced by Davies and coauthored by Dodd, AB-543 would require California universities to provide information about CalFresh to all incoming students as part of campus orientation.
  • AB-508 (L. Rivas and Lorena Gonzalez): Introduced by Assembly Members Luz Rivas and Lorena Gonzalez and coauthored by Assembly Members Kalra, Bauer-Kahan, Boerner Horvath, and Eduardo Garcia, AB-508 would expand school meal programs by requiring school districts and county superintendents to provide free meals for students who are eligible to receive reduced-priced meals.
  • AB-558 (Nazarian) would create the California School Plant-Based Food and Beverage Program, which would provide reimbursements to school districts that provide plant-based options as part of free and reduced-price school meal programs. This bill could have positive health and environmental benefits by increasing access to plant-based food.
  • AB-368 (Bonta): Introduced by Assembly Member Bonta and coauthored by Assembly Members Chiu and Wicks, AB-368 would establish a pilot program to provide prescriptions for medically supportive food. Eligible Medi-Cal beneficiaries could receive vouchers to redeem specific foods that can alleviate or treat medical conditions, such a diabetes and hypertension.

*Beth Kent is an Emmett/Frankel Fellow in Environmental Law and Policy at UCLA School of Law for 2020-2022. She earned her J.D. from UCLA School of Law with a specialization in Public Interest Law & Policy from the Epstein Program, and she actively participated in UCLA Law’s environmental and food law programs.

Learning and eating remotely

By Daniel Pessar* (Guest Blogger)

This is the second in a series of occasional posts by Daniel Pessar on regulatory flexibility in the context of food law and the pandemic.

School administrators across the country have their work cut out for them. The shift to remote instruction has improved compliance with social distancing mandates but has also created challenges for families and invited questions about the quality of online education. Modern schools, however, are more than just places of instruction—they are also hubs of support service activity for students. From providing guidance counselors and speech therapists to nurses and probation officers, schools are equipped to do much more than just teach. And many of the services offered by schools are less easily transferable to the web than classroom learning.

chairs classroom college desks
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Food provision programs are one such example. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) administers federal programs including the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), the School Breakfast Program (SBP), and the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) which exist to bring nutritious food to school-age children. The Child Nutrition Programs, including the ones listed above, cost the United State over $20 billion each year—translating to well over 7 billion meals and snacks—and are administered with the help of a long list of laws and regulations.

But like many other school services, food programs are designed to provide meals on site and not remotely. For example, program sponsors (e.g., schools, camps, or governments) must agree, in writing, to numerous rules including to, Maintain children on site while meals are consumed.”  7 CFR § 225.6(e)(15)

To allow the food programs to continue despite the virus-related upheaval, the USDA has relaxed several rules, including the requirement to have students eat on site. Although some rule waivers are being issued on a state-by-state or case-by-case basis, the USDA issued an all-states waiver in this case:

[The law and regulations require that] child nutrition program meals must be served in a congregate setting and must be consumed by participants on site. However, FNS [USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service] recognizes that in this public health emergency, waiving the congregate meal requirements is vital to ensure appropriate safety measures for the purpose of providing meals and meal supplements.

COVID–19: Child Nutrition Response #2 (March 20, 2020), Food and Nutrition Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture

Another important rule waiver deals with the requirement that students be present for food pickup. Given the concerns about students having to leave home in the current environment of recommended isolation—especially those students who may not feel well—the USDA granted another all-state rule waiver:

[The law and regulations] envision Program operators providing meals directly to children, not to parents and guardians picking up meals at non-congregate meal sites on behalf of their children. However, FNS recognizes that in this public health emergency, continuing to require children to come to the meal site to pick up meals may not be practical and in keeping with the goal of providing meals while also taking appropriate safety measures.

COVID–19: Child Nutrition Response #5 (March 25, 2020), Food and Nutrition Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture

Questions remain:  Will these meals—designed to be healthy and produced with children in mind—actually get into the hands of the intended recipients? Even if they do, will students eat the food if they have unhealthy alternatives available? These and many other questions face school administrators and policymakers trying to navigate the new environment.

But at least food provisions can be handed to parents and guardians and sent home to students. The same cannot be said for counseling and therapy services, health services, and many other offerings. Without new avenues for connecting with students and distributing all resources, the pandemic disruption will continue to result in a dramatic decrease in support services to the students who need them most.

*Daniel Pessar is a third-year student at Harvard Law School. Before law school, he worked in the real estate investment industry for six years. He is the author of three books and numerous articles. He can be contacted at dpessar@jd20.law.harvard.edu

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