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C2C Digital Magazine Spring-Summer 2022

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Book review: Nutritious, healthy, and preferred food as a human right

By Shalin Hai-Jew, Kansas State University


Food Security Issues and Challenges
Adriana Fillol Mazo and Miguel Ángel Martín López
Nova Science Publishers
393 pp.  

What is the state of the world today in terms of food production—in terms of transnational organizations, international trade, food safety standards, political advocacy, and modern technologies?  According to co-editors Adriana Fillol Mazo and Miguel Ángel Martín López’s  Food Security Issues and Challenges (2021), the ideals are informed and savvy, but enabling access to nutritious, safe, and culturally appropriate foods is not without Herculean challenges.  


In the present moment, there are headwinds from nature, human actions (leading to global warming), warfare, fuel costs (and inflation), and supply chain challenges.  There are still people dying of hunger daily and many more with insufficient nutrients for fully healthful lives.  An estimated 690 million were estimated to go hungry globally in 2020.  The United Nations has a goal of zero hunger by 2030 according to the Sustainable Development Goal #2 (Mazo & López, 2021, p. ix).  This edited collection brings together various phenomena related to food security:  

Indeed, food is inescapably linked to climate change, peacekeeping, economic globalization, the world trading system, global health, agricultural biodiversity, new technologies, etc.  These are all global issues of considerable relevance that have an impact on food security. (Mazo & López, 2021, p. x)

Coherent ideals are important to guide human actions.  To enable the actualization of the food policies, there have to be responsive governments (at all levels) in various countries, investments (by governments, by private industries, and by other entities), sufficient and appropriate applied research, appropriate oversight by regulatory bodies, and informed and savvy consumers.  Together, the various issues make for various interrelated hard problems, with various expertise and collaborations required.  The need for food is essentially inelastic and required for everything else.  

Human Rights to Food

Miguel Ángel Martín López’s “Broadening the Protection of Food Security and the Right to Food through the Inclusion of Health and Sustainability Issues” (Ch. 1) highlights various dependencies for food security, including considerations for food safety (from biohazards, from chemicals, and others) and environmental sustainability (the uses of natural and other resources in a way that preserves the environment.  Earlier global agreements may have focused more on available food quantities for human survival and less on quality in various dimensions.  Indeed, food quality tends to worsen as food insecurity increases; said another way, as food insecurity worsens, there is often lessened access to fruit, dairy, and meat, and a more diverse diet. (López, 2021, p.  4)  The lack of nutrition can have long-term negative effects on human health.  The lack of nutritious food consumption can also be part of a learned lifestyle, such as a diet high in sodium, trans fats, cholesterol, processed carbs, and sugars.  There is a relationship between poor diets and chronic diseases.  Alcohol consumption, smoking, and sedentary lifestyles compound the health challenges.

Various food terms may instantiate in different ways low-, middle-, and high-income countries.  

  • “Food security” refers to access to sufficient amounts of food available within living wages.  [High costs of food, food deserts, and other challenges may lead to food insecurity, even in wealthy countries.]  
  • In general, “food safety” refers to food that is safe for human consumption, food that does not lead to illness or death.  There are problems with chemical hazards “especially in Asia and Africa” (López, 2021, p.  7).  A lack of food safety has led to “some 420,000 deaths per year and more than 600 million people affected by such diseases and food poison in worldwide” (López, 2021, p.  7).  Spillovers of zoonotic pathogens from animals into humanity also pose threats (the SARS-CoV-2 / COVID-19 pandemic is a recent case in point).  A One Health approach is necessary to encompass the complexities of this issue in the interdependent and global real.  
  • “Sustainability” is a broad term that points to human-based actions that cause harm to the environment and the need to minimize or mitigate those harms.  There are environmental threats linked to food production and consumption.  There are risks of greenhouse gas emissions “linked to the current food system (processing, transport, waste, etc.)” (López, 2021, p.  13).  Meat consumption, particularly of beef, has been linked to higher greenhouse gasses from methane and the energy inputs required to raise cattle.  Calculating various environmental costs requires detailed analyses at every step of food processing.  

UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are leading global organizations that focus on food and ties to human health.  A 2004 meeting of experts in the FAO-WHO on foodborne viruses in 2004 focused research efforts of the global community:  

Basically, at this meeting it was agreed that the highest priority should be given to noroviruses and hepatitis A viruses, which can be found in shellfish, fresh produce and prepared foods, and which cause serious illness and considerable mortality.  This was specifically voiced.  Still, other viruses of potential occurrence were also mentioned, such as rotaviruses, astroviruses, sap viruses, enteroviruses, parvoviruses or archiviruses (sic:  aichi virus), as well as emerging viruses, such as the Nipah virus, HPAI [highly pathogenic of (sic) avian influenza] or the well-known coronavirus.  (López, 2021, pp.  14-15)  

The surprise emergence of SARS-CoV-2 / COVID-19 from an animal wet market in Wuhan, China (for which there is more evidence now), has changed the thinking and likely shifted the global agendas for food safety and security. Food security comes to the fore once there is access to nutritious and healthy foods. Access to food is in question in regions of the world given both the work stoppages (under conditions of lockdown) of the COVID-19 pandemic and war in Ukraine.    

Complexities of World Trade and Food Security

Sardines!  Bananas!  Leonardo Fabio Pastorino’s “Food Security and the WTO” (Ch. 2) explores the role of the WTO in promoting sanitary and phytosanitary measures related to food security, which is often considered along four dimensions:  “availability, access, stability, and utilization” (Pastorino, 2021, p. 23).  Public policies around food security “requires a complex combination of various factors (scientific knowledge, authorities, mechanisms and procedures) of a very different nature” (Pastorino, 2021, p. 23), resulting in a complex professional space.  

Free trade has long been thought to enable just such access to healthy food while enabling developing countries to advance economically, even as each country as its own comparative advantages.  That stance is not uncontested, and various political narratives come into play.  The author writes:  

This is equivalent to saying that free trade could offer the economic means to acquire all necessary food, of quality, and chosen according to the preferences of each person and medical recommendations. Supporters of the opposite viewpoint argue that protectionism favours local primary activities and also productive reconversion towards industrialization. (Pastorino, 2021, p. 25)  

At local levels, various societies have to decide how open or closed (protectionist) they should go in terms of free trade around food, based on their policies and practices.  Free trade is also thought to result in the proliferation of technologies and science more broadly, given the markets in developed countries and the standards that must be met for building to those markets.  Developed countries may better position their agricultural and food products and cause farmers in less developed countries to become more food-insecure.  How governments subsidize agriculture and foodstuffs may also lead to different effects.  There are complexities in this space.  

Figure 1.  Dairy Cow

The FAO’s Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures includes the following:  “Members have the right to take sanitary and phytosanitary measures necessary for the protection of human, animal or plant life or health, provided that such measures are not inconsistent with the provisions of this Agreement” (paragraph 1 of Article 2, as cited in Pastorino, 2021, p. 31).  These measures may include “all relevant laws, decrees, regulations, requirements and procedures including, inter alia, end product criteria, processes and production methods; testing, inspection, certification and approval procedures; quarantine treatments including relevant requirements associated with the transport of animals or plants, or with the materials necessary for their survival during transport; provisions on relevant statistical methods, sampling procedures and methods of risk assessment; and packaging and labelling requirements directly related to food safety” (Pastorino, 2021, p. 31).  There are thickets of laws affecting this space in terms of how disputes may be handled between countries and other entities.  There are also issues related to intellectual property in this space.  The author also highlights other issues that have arisen and described how these have been settled.  Food security requires hard policy and negotiation and legal work to actualize.  The author finalizes this work by asking that “food security should be recognized as a principle, rather than an exception, so that, together with other world organizations, a more integrated and humanized model of a world community can be built” (Pastorino, 2021, p. 40).  

Social Justice and the Right to Food

One work argues that the Right to Food (RTF) is part of Access to Justice (ATI), based on various legal regimes:  national, regional, and international.  Further, food justice requires “food sovereignty,” in Manuel A. Gómez’s “The Right to Food and the Expanding Frontier of Access to Justice” (Ch. 3).  The general understanding is that the world produces sufficient food for the entire human population, but some six million children still die from malnutrition, lack of access to clean water, and related diseases and health conditions.  The challenges for survival go beyond food:  
Access to food—or the lack thereof—is closely related, and sometimes conditioned by, the availability of other basic necessities of modern life such as water, housing, education, work, information, and freedom.  Political and armed conflict, climate change, natural catastrophes and health crises also have an impact on whether and how people can access food… (Gómez, 2021, p. 45)  

Stakeholders to the “right to food” policy range from “governments and multilateral agencies, to civil society organizations and the private sector” (Gómez, 2021, p. 46).  Each play a role.  Governments need to use their power of policies and laws and investments and other levers to ensure that their citizens have fundamental needs met.  

“Food sovereignty” stems from the value of local access to “culturally appropriate and nutritious food”; it aligns with the need to protect domestic agricultural systems (and not just be concerned about pricing as enabled by large multinational corporate food producers (Gómez, 2021, p. 47).  There is political value in having “the control of productive resources (land, water, seeds and natural resources) in the hands of those who produce food” (Gómez, 2021, p. 47).  Food sovereignty began as an adversarial political movement against the state but has since become more mainstream.  In the transnational space, all countries ideally have important voices about the various issues.  It has only been recently that international law has paid attention to food.  Right to food has implications for warfare (it is not legal to try to starve populations or warfighters, at risk of crimes against humanity and genocide) and for various contexts.  While right to food is clearly defined, not all states have the resources or wherewithal to realize such rights for all their citizens.  Ensuring that states have those capabilities is important.  

Respect for Human Life and the Food Chain

Claudia Petry’s “Health:  Respect for Life and the Food Chain” (Ch. 4) takes an ideological approach to food by suggesting that “holistic health” is possible by “using traditional ecological practices of sustainable food production and consumption as the primary tool of food security” (Petry, 2021, p. 64).  This approach would forgo big agriculture, mechanization, pesticides, monocropping, artificial flavors, and other aspects of modern agriculture and corporate food production.  The radical assertion here is that agroecological production can feed the world’s people, not just niche markets with expensive organics.  The author writes:  

Various modern diseases that lead to death, such as diabetes, vascular diseases, obesity, and cancer, are directly related to poor diet.  From the time that human beings created villages, stopped hunting and gathering, and began to practice agriculture, they began a process of dependence on food production. This dependence has led to the current unprecedented situation of epidemics of autoimmune diseases and comorbidities.  (Petry, 2021, p. 63)  

This vision for a more idealized food production chain is not supported by statistical models for productivity.  Rather, the author identifies selective “events in the history of food” that have led to “imbalances in food production and processing” (Petry, 2021, p. 66).  She argues against “excessive sterilization” of foods that she says have led to “the emergence of resistant pathogenic living beings (e.g., super bacteria that resist antibiotics)” and the lessened consumption of fermented foods that have led to insufficient intestinal microbiota  (Petry, 2021, p. 69).  A restructuring of food production will result in closer ties to the land and more human labor, perhaps a going back in time:  

To produce organic food, the grower does not use external synthetic inputs.  However, this food will not be cheaper, nor should it be.  We must understand the process and the system, as there will be more labor, fixing the farmer on the land, reducing rural exodus and social discrepancies. The higher cost of this food is to pay for social good.  Activities are more intensive, involving planning, execution, and maintenance, always seeking to pollute less.  (Petry, 2021, pp. 71-72)  

The author argues against the use of pesticides to protect farmer and farmer families’ health, but it is unclear what this approach means for edible harvest.  She points to practices of various people groups in areas around the world as having wisdom to share about how to live more naturally with smaller-scale farming. If this work is a thought experiment, it exists more as a philosophical work posing as an impracticable whitepaper.  An important takeaway is that the health of the ecosystem should be protected as much as possible against unhealthy human effects.  

Feeding the Children

For adults to have positive eating habits, it is thought that good dietary habits should be instilled in childhood.  Angélica Fellenberg and Nicolas Cobo’s “JUNAEB’s School Feeding Programs in Chile; Innovations for Threats to Food Security” (Ch. 5) explores how schools balance nutrition while working to avoid over-eating (and overweightedness, obesity, and related chronic noncommunicable diseases).  The Chilean School Feeding Program (PAE) run by JUNAEB started in 1964.  Over the years, it has evolved to include greater varieties of food and heightened focuses on nutrition, to achieve government policy goals for a healthful and productive population.  

Sustainable Food Systems for Seniors

Seniors, as a demographic group, have to rely on “multiple fragmented and disconnected feeding programs,” according to Denise C. Tahara’s “More Food is Not the Answer:  Using Systems Thinking to Build Sustainable Food Systems for Seniors” (Ch. 6).  Food insecurity is a public health crisis that affects the most vulnerable of society in challenging ways.  Meal programs for seniors should include “medical, social, and public health services”; they should include “food prescriptions and medically tailored meals” for human health (Tahara, 2021, p. 108). This work also proposes that “data from Electronic Benefit Transfer cards and Electronic Health Records (EHRs)” should be accessed to “monitor utilization, adherence, and health outcomes” of seniors, and that particular “red-flag items” from EHRs should be used to make referrals for “medical and social services” (Tahara, 2021, p. 108). [The latter might contravene privacy and be a form of overreach.  Many citizens around the world showed high resistance to government advisement on health in the context of a life-threatening pandemic from 2020 – present already.  Having government-funded food purchases monitored for inferred health seems like a stretch here.]  The response to COVID-19 is seen as informative of a broken public health system, with a need for increased thoughtful interventions for seniors (those 65 and older).  An inequitable society has meant that the rate of food insecurity is higher for Black and Hispanic seniors as compared to White ones, and minority seniors also experience more chronic diseases related to food insecurity (Tahara, 2021, p. 110).  

Tahara applies a systems approach to examine the plight of seniors and to propose ways that their nutritional situation may be improved into the future.  A hypothetical 85-year-old “example user” is the basis for the analysis, which uses concept maps, systems diagrams, asset maps, and process flow charts “to design sustainable community-based solutions” (Tahara, 2021, p. 113).  Various stakeholders include food suppliers, communities, transportation systems, housing systems, insurance companies, health care providers, an IT infrastructure, government, and so on  (Tahara, 2021, p. 115).  There are a range of proposals, including for “food pharmacies,” or programs to increase access to health-promoting foods.  In a process flow analysis, the author poses potential follow-on questions about the plan:  

Have we documented the senior’s journey?  How many seniors successfully complete the journey?  Where are the bottlenecks in the process?  Where do seniors renege?  Give up? Do they understand the treatment plan? Can they adhere to the plan? Do they need a translator?  How do we check-in on our seniors?  How can they check-in with us?  How well is the infrastructure designed to support the needed services and interactions? (Tahara, 2021, pp. 123-124)  

While her analysis is engaging, this seems like a possibility only in a sufficiently wealthy society with compassion for its elderly.  The proposals would be more powerful if there were some budgetary planning or estimates.  

Extreme Rural Poverty in Mexico and Food:  1992 - 2018

Marco Antonio Pérez Méndez and Gilberto Aboites Manrique’s “Food Insecurity and Rural Poverty in Mexico: The Case of Corn Consumption” (Ch. 7) explores a phenomenon of non-monetary income for the extreme poor through the growing of corn for self-consumption.  In Mexico, the peasantry in the countryside are those with the highest economic vulnerabilities.  These researchers categorize the poor into four groups in relation to the poverty dimension:  “total poverty, extreme poverty, extreme poverty with production for self-consumption and extreme poverty with production of corn for self-consumption” (Méndez & Manrique, 2021, p. 142).  In capitalist systems, people strive to earn what is necessary for life by trading their labor.  People can earn income from both monetary (from wages, from rent, from transfer payments) and non-monetary income (self-consumption, in-kind payments and gifts and rent, and others) (Méndez & Manrique, 2021, p. 149).  Some, however, fall below subsistence where minimal needs cannot be met.  One construct involves a food poverty line.  The “income of the population in food insecurity represents around 19% of the national average income,” … and the income of the “food insecure population with corn autoconsumption represents only 15% of the national average income” (Méndez & Manrique, 2021, pp. 151 - 152).  From 1992 to 2018, extreme poverty dropped from 27% to 12%.  At the same time, there was a dropping rate of the percentage of rural households that grow corn for self-consumption.  For the poorest 10% of the rural poor in Mexico, in every year of the study, “the poorest 10% of the population requires at least 50% of their income to overcome food insecurity” (Méndez & Manrique, 2021, p. 155).  Those in extreme poverty have struggles meeting their basic caloric intake needs.  Returning to growing corn to augment their diets can be beneficial.  

Supporting Small Farmers’ Livelihoods

Figure 2.  Water Kettle on Rocks

Raquel Villodres Toledo’s “Agroecology and the Human Rights-Based Approach:  Transforming Food and Agricultural Systems to Improve Small Farmers’ Livelihoods” (Ch. 8) focuses on the lives of smallholder farmers in developing countries, who face high rates of poverty and attendant hunger.  Agroecology practices are proposed as a new agricultural model to promote the sustainability of food production (with less pressure on land, water, and energy usage) while enabling smallholder farmers to better provide for themselves even in an age of climate change (with greater varieties of crops).  The world food situation has been challenging.   The “estimated number of undernourished people has been on the rise since 2015, with ‘690 million people suffering chronic undernourishment, 135 million people facing acute food insecurity, and 2 billion people living with moderate food insecurity in 2019” but also with a third of food for people “lost or wasted globally” (CFS, 2020, as cited in Toledo, 2021, p. 164).  The arrival of climate change has been bringing “floods, droughts, desertification, loss of biodiversity, changing ecosystems” affecting the poor disproportionately (Toledo, 2021, p. 167).  A new model may change the reputation of smaller-scale farmers as “recipients of charity or as aid beneficiaries” but as “rights-holders, entitled to fundamental socio-political, cultural, and economic freedoms, empowered to meaningfully participate in the decision-making process of the development policies” (Toledo, 2021, p. 169).  Agroecology practices, which are knowledge-intensive, include the growing of multiple crops, intercropping on the same fields, agroforestry, recycling, integrated pest management, the preservation of soil health (such as growing crops that instill nitrogen in the soil), and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, while striving for efficiencies and higher outputs.  Fodder grasses are used to protect topsoil from erosion.  The author writes:  

Enhancing agrobiodiversity improves crop resistance to droughts and diseases.  As was reported in China, those rice farms that introduced other resistant varieties in mixture with the existing ones experienced a yield increase of 89%, and farmers could finally abandon the high use of fungicidal. (HRC, 2010, as cited in Toledo, 2021, p. 184)  

A human-rights based approach (HRBA) to development is a part of agroecology, with various protected people groups standing to benefit:  “The very essence of agroecological practices promotes an environment of equality and non-discrimination.  They are adapted to every particular agroecosystem and social reality and are developed in collaboration with farmers themselves” (Toledo, 2021, p. 186).  There are women involved in self-help-groups and cooperatives (Toledo, 2021, p. 186).  

The Promise of Agroecology in Paraguay and the Challenges to its Actualization

Federico Vargas Lehner and Mónica Gavilán Jiménez’s “Food Systems for the Right to Food Fulfillment in Paraguay:  An Agroecology Contribution” (Ch. 9) describes a dominant system of technified production agriculture or agribusiness at scale (often for soybeans and corn) and then family farming (often with a larger variety of products) (Lehner & Jiménez, 2021, p.  191).  The Republic of Paraguay is a major grower of fruits and vegetables for export and also produces “pineapple, cassava, and bananas” for its own consumption (Lehner & Jiménez, 2021, p.  192) and depends on other imports for other fruits and vegetables.  In this context, agroecological production is promoted by a mix of “state organizations, civil society, producers, companies, and academia” (Lehner & Jiménez, 2021, p. 198).  

The ability to produce various crops may enable access to premium markets (Lehner & Jiménez, 2021, p. 192).  To promote such endeavors, there have been outreaches to peasants and smallholder farmers.  Produce created may be sold at agricultural fairs, which are dominated by women.  The “social, political and economic context” for a change to agroecological practices is adverse, however:  

The main challenges to promote agroecology in Paraguay identified by different social organizations are safe access to land; technical assistance; specialized credits; fair and safe market(s), effective articulations between producers and organizations; networks for the promotion and implementation of public policies; seed rescue and multiplication networks; capacity and solid instances of exchanges of experiences between agroecological producers; capacity and instances of dialogue between producer and consumer (Country-City dialogue); local public policies, such as land use planning plans that include agrochemical-free zones; local policies that ensure compliance with environmental regulations regarding protection barriers; control of deforestation and fires; control of the use of agrochemicals.  (Lehner & Jiménez, 2021, p. 203)  

Where agroecological measures will go in Paraguay in coming years depend on buy-in by government and the larger population, among others.  

Glyphosate and Agricultural Production

Those who may assume that safety oversight of new chemicals is a straightforward process may be disabused of their assumptions in Justo Corti Varela’s “Food Security and Agrochemicals:  Rise and Fall of Glyphosate as Holy Grail of Agriculture Production the European Union” (Ch. 10).  In vitro research may be interpreted in different ways, and then there is the in vivo mix of interests—economical, political, and others.  Agrochemicals have enabled the agricultural revolution and mass crop productions of the past decades:  “Fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides made it possible to increase productivity, but they also left a legacy of contamination and a shadow of doubt about the safety of the food we consume” (Varela, 2021, p. 211).  

The case of glyphosate (an herbicide or weed killer) is explored as an exemplar case.  Glyphosate was discovered in the 1950s, and its patent was sold to Monsanto in the 1970s.  Glyphosate “was a key element in the so-called ‘war on drugs’ being used extensively by joint US and local military brigades to deforest clandestine marijuana and coca crops in Colombia and Mexico” (Varela, 2021, p. 213).  Glyphosate was popularized in the U.S. in the 1980s as an herbicide.  At this time, “Monsanto geneticists, and even with the glyphosate patent, began to work in the creation of genetically modified seeds that would resist the herbicide and function as a ‘technological package’” (Varela, 2021, p. 213).  The competitive advantage would be that the company could sell both the herbicide and herbicide-resistant seeds (of genetically modified organisms / GMOs) and enable cornering swaths of the market.  The advent of GMOs and the patenting of biological resources caused global resistance by many who militated against “Frankenfoods” and corporate ownership of nature (as expressed as genetic code).  

The regulatory oversight of chemicals is a complex one, and the private companies that put forth the packages for approval choose which studies to advance (and which to leave out), suggests the author. Glyphosate was initially listed as a carcinogen, but later, that label was removed based on new analysis of data and new research.  There are economic and political pressures that may be brought to bear against the various regulatory agencies.  Then, once one agency has approved a substance, others in other countries may just go along with the initial decision-making.  Large industries—agriculture, chemical—have well funded lobbies.  This work follows the vagaries of glyphosate through various regulatory evaluations in countries in Europe and elsewhere.  This chapter asks how people may have a fair and transparent process of vetting chemicals that may have unknown effects on human health and how people may be kept informed in a way so that they can make informed decisions about their product purchases and usage.  The author writes:  

From an economic point of view, unlike GMOs that are not grown in the EU except to a limited extent in Spain, glyphosate is widely used in ‘conventional’ agriculture, as well as weed control in gardening, even in public parks, on roads and other areas of extensive and direct use by the general public. (Varela, 2021, p. 221)  

Based on tens of thousands of lawsuits, Bayer (which bought Monsanto) ended up agreeing to pay a global settlement of $10.9 billion in June 2020 to settle some 100,000 lawsuits related to the harmful health effects of glyphosate (Varela, 2021, p. 227).  The 2019 reform on European Food Safety Law was “a direct response to the glyphosate crisis” (Varela, 2021, p. 229) but is seen as insufficiently empowering of citizens to assess actual risk (beyond what may be gleaned from scientific debates).  

Land Investments and Food Security in W. Africa

François Collart-Dutilleul and Alhousseini Diabate’s “Investment Law in the Face of Food Security Challenges in West Africa” (Ch. 11) takes an advocacy position for nations to write food security clauses into agreements when leasing out national lands to foreign governments and foreign companies to develop.  Foreign investment is seen to make the lands more productive, given different techniques, inputs, and R&D.  West Africa has experienced some devastating droughts and ensuring mass famines. Given the food insecurity, the researchers propose harnessing food security legislation and contract language.  The researchers write:  

…there are many types of food security policies:  international trade to buy what the population needs with the money earned from what is produced and exported, facilitating international investment in land and agriculture, developing agriculture, and probably many others. These policies can also be combined by placing the cursor somewhere along the line of food security, between food self-sufficiency and total dependence on imports. This line also indicates the degree of food sovereignty of a country, as well as its degree of food self-sufficiency. (Collart-Dutilleul & Diabate, 2021, p. 234)  

The authors suggest that Mali has outdone itself by offering contracts on unequal terms to the nation and without considering “the local population’s right to food or the country’s food security” (Collart-Dutilleul & Diabate, 2021, p. 236).  They observe that foreign businesspeople may start businesses without land use laws because there is already a legal structure in place.  Foreign investors can own up to 100% of the shares of their businesses, they note.  The Malian state guarantees investors “against any measures involving nationalization, expropriation or requisitioning of their business, except in the public interest” (which reads like a fairly large exclusion based on interpretation) (Collart-Dutilleul & Diabate, 2021, p. 238).  This chapter reads like a prose summary of the country’s Investment Code and other business rules and tax laws.  Developing nation-states compete with each other for foreign direct investment, and the more stable and secure their country, the safer it is for foreign capital inflows.  

However, there is language that the authors find antithetical to the state’s interests: 

In the event of a food crisis, the country will have to allow the agricultural food commodities produced by a foreign investor to leave the country, while also allowing the profits to leave, without receiving any tax revenue in exchange. (Collart-Dutilleul & Diabate, 2021, p. 240)  

They muse about the nation’s right to “requisition” some of the food for the country, but that that is against the WTO rules.  They propose putting into place a “crisis law” that gives the country additional rights in emergency situations (Collart-Dutilleul & Diabate, 2021, p. 241), but this gives the sense that laws and practices are really context-dependent and easy-to-change.  They propose writing into land contracts something of the local food interests of the local populations.  

This work takes as examples three actual contracts between Mali and Libya (May 2008), Mali and a private Chinese company (April 2007), and Mali and a private company with the main shareholders in S. Africa amd a U.S. company (June 2007).  They examine the terms of the agreements involving the leased Malian land, water usage, and other features. They muse if it would not be better if foreign land ownership were not prohibited based on such practices in other African countries.  The FAO Committee on World Food Security has offered some guidelines for the “responsible governance of tenure of land and other natural resources” to help developing countries navigate this space to protect their interests (Collart-Dutilleul & Diabate, 2021, pp. 250-251).  

"Land Grabs" and Effects on Human Rights and Food Security

The term “land grab” carries obvious negative connotations, suggesting perhaps, fraud and exploitation and theft.  In Francisco Javier Zamora Cabot, José Elías Esteve Moltó, and Maria Chiara Marullo’s “The Impact on Human Rights and Food Security of Land Grabs:  Cases from Brazil and Ecuador” (Ch. 12), “land grabs” apparently refer to the leasing or purchase of land by various entities (transnational corporations, financial speculators, pension funds) for offshore food production (growing food outside of the country where it will be consumed) and other extractive uses.  Such land use displaces local workers and farmers and even communities, who cannot use the leased or purchased lands for local food production (p. 258), with negative effects on human rights and food security.  This work involves studies of cases in Brazil (soy and meat industries) and Ecuador (mining industry), which are countries through which the Amazon extends. This work offers a study “on land grabbing, ecocide, and indigenous peoples” (Cabot, Moltó, and Marullo, 2021, p. 255) and resulting problems for global governance of the world’s natural resources.  The researchers describe the reach of multinational agribusiness corporations that seek opportunities abroad with more suitable climates and local conditions.  They are described as engaging in “land grabs” and “water grabs” and working in collusion with “corrupt governments to appropriate the land and its resources in the pursuit of profit (Cabot, Moltó, and Marullo, 2021, p. 260).  As a counterpoint, indigenous peoples advocate for legal recognition of their historical ancestral ownership of the contested land.  This work describes unhealthy work conditions, insufficient workplace oversights, permanent damage to the ecosystem, extinctions of species, contamination of land and water, and other challenges from the agroindustry and mining industries. 

Figure 3.  Crops in a Field

The Marine Ecosystem and Ocean Acidification in the Context of Human Eating

Adriana Fillol-Mazo’s “Ocean Acidification as a Risk to Food Derived from the Marine Ecosystem:  In Search of International Legal Reponses” (Ch. 13) spotlight the damage to marine life from the absorption of some 30% of the world’s CO2 emissions into ocean waters and the forming of carbonic acid.  The ocean acidification results in lessened saturation of calcium carbonate minerals needed for “the formation of shells, skeletons and other hard surfaces of marine organisms, including corals, crustaceans, molluscs (sic) and marine plankton, which causes problems for the survival, growth and reproduction of these marine organisms” (Fillol-Mazo, 2021, p. 282). Lower pH in ocean waters also reduces “the efficiency of oxygen exchange in the gills of some fish” Fillol-Mazo, 2021, p. 286).  The marine food chain is affected, for fish and mammals that rely on the marine organisms.  There are effects on people’s livelihoods that depend on marine life and for human diets.  Sound carries differently in an acidified ocean, which can stress certain mammals, especially with military and industrial endeavors in the oceans.  Changing ocean chemical compositions can lead to the spread of algal blooms that can be toxic to various forms of life in ocean waters.  (Fillol-Mazo, 2021, pp. 287 - 288).  Various transnational and governmental entities are engaged in endeavors to assess the situation of ocean acidification and to enable constructive interventions to marine pollution in all its forms.

“IoT” and Capitalism’s Positive and Negative Impacts on the Food Industry

Information technology is thought to be able to play a critical role in food production, particularly with the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.  Can robotics be brought in to process food animals into packages of meat?  What about centralized data-informed management of food supply chains?  How can technologies enhance food safety standards?  Ensure proper food transport and storage?  Rafael Rodríguez Prieto’s “Food, Capitalism and Internet of Things” (Ch. 14) explores the possible harnessing of the networked devices of the Internet of Things (IoT) in the food industry and argues for the need for consumer transparency in terms of personal (food?) data that may be captured (p. 26), so that risks may be mitigated.  [This work does not seem as clearly related to the food security angle of the text.]  

Biotechnology Advances in Food Production: A Review

Borja Montes Toscano’s “The Use of Biotechnology in Food:  Challenges, Problems and New Perspectives” (Ch. 15) provides an overview of how biotechnology has been applied in the agriculture and food production space.  As part of the Green Revolution of the 1960s, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and other biotechnology has contributed to massive increases to crop yield, raised food nutrition, enabled plant hardiness against environmental variances and pest predations, and engaged other challenges (Toscano, 2021, p. 332), to fight human hunger and disease.  The “miracle” sense of biotechnology is not unwarranted based on an objective review of the performance.  Some have called attention to the risks of biotechnology, with the sense that genetic editing may result in “unforeseeable consequences” and risks to biosafety (Toscano, 2021, p. 334).  How can transgenic proteins be identified if they are harmful to human health?  What if particular GMOs enable faster pathogen spread?  (Toscano, 2021, p. 337)  Even though there are some international laws in place, there is a sense that there are insufficient mechanisms for oversight and legal enforcement.  There are concerns of “the rise of superweeds resistant to herbicides by GM plants or traits.  Further, insects may become resistant to Bt crops or pesticides used together with GM crops” (Toscano, 2021, p. 338).  Others have expressed unhappiness with the usage of intellectual property rights to the genetically modified plants and other forms of biological life.   The dominance of a few transnational companies in this space is another issue of concern (Toscano, 2021, p. 341).  

COVID-19 Pandemic and Right to Food in Uruguay (A Case Study)

In recent memory, there has not been such a highly disruptive and human-destructive event at global scale as the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had harmful effects on health, economics, social relations, and humanitarian endeavors.  The pandemic has disrupted supply chains and people’s access to livelihoods; it has increased poverty and hunger.  Alejandra Girona, Gabriela Fajardo, and Gastón Fajardo’s “The Impact of COVID-19 on the Right to Food in Latin America:  Insights from Uruguay” (Ch. 16) explores the impact of the pandemic on high-income Uruguay in terms of food insecurity.  Access to food involves both physical and economic access to food for every person of every age, with human dignity respected and cultural needs fulfilled (by the available food).  Developing countries have fragile food systems that may not be sufficiently hardy against deep crises such as the multi-year pandemic requiring human social distancing and other interventions.  The Uruguay government implemented various types of measures to enable access to food during this crisis:  “1) cash transfers and food provision, ii) measures to maintain employment and mitigate the reduction in household income, iii) measures to guarantee food availability at reasonable prices, and iv) other general economic measures (e.g., flexible credits, delays in tax payments, temporary suspension of tax payments and credits)” (Brunet et al., 2020a, as cited in Girona, Fajardo, & Fajardo, 2021, p. 364).  Food baskets with healthy foodstuffs were distributed.  This work shows how a high-income country enacted right-to-food in a time of mass-scale crisis, and it offers thoughts on what else may be done into the mid- and long-term for RTF and food justice even well past the pandemic.  


Figure 4.  Controlled Burn of Prairie Pre-Seeding

Food justice involves individual human right-to-food.  Global organizations, national governments, activist groups, and others, help set ideal-informed goals for meeting human needs for nutritious and healthful foods in proper quantities for humanity at all ages.  At the macro level, the world struggles to feed its peoples without causing undue harm to the environment.  This critical endeavor instantiates in different ways around the world, even as the world’s peoples engage in trade to address people’s needs and appetites. 

One wonders if the COVID-19 pandemic will speed up 4IR technologies.  Will the pandemic make people more open to genetic engineering given the criticality of the inoculations?  Will there be more attention to food  security and safety given the interruptions to the supply chains? What models and systems will come to the fore with the impending hunger in Africa due to the warfare between Russia and Ukraine (both comprising the "wheat basket" of the world)? 

Adriana Fillol Mazo and Miguel Ángel Martín López’s Food Security Issues and Challenges (2021) offers a vivid introduction to the food security challenges of the modern era, based on various angles and dimensions, in a world emerging at differential speeds from a devastating pandemic. 

About the Author

Shalin Hai-Jew works as an instructional designer / researcher at Kansas State University.  Her email is  
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