When in 1996 the leaders of the world gathered at the World Food Summit and sought, once again, to tackle the seemingly intractable problem of reducing the number of hungry in the world, they tempered their goal so that instead of eliminating hunger in 10 years, they sought to halve the number of hungry by 2015 (in 20 years). At present the number of hungry in the world is higher than it was in 1996 and it seems certain that the goal will once again not be met in the next year-and-a-half.

One of the actions of the World Food Summit was to request “a better definition of the rights relating to food” found in the ICESCR. This request was assigned to the Committee on Economic, Cultural, and Social Rights and was addressed during its 20th session in 1999. The result was a document called Substantive Issues Arising in the Implementation of the ICESCR: General Comment 12, The Right to Adequate Food http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/%28Symbol%29/3d02758c707031d58025677f003b73b9?Opendocument

General Comment 12 included a number of concepts that are crucial to understanding the Right to Food and what we have identified as an element of reasonably defensible agricultural policy: human physical sustainability—making sure that all humans have access to the food they need for full human physical, mental, and social development. Key among the concepts contained in General Comment 12 are 1) availability, 2) accessibility, 3) adequacy, 4) security, and 5) sustainability. While these concepts overlap, it is valuable to look at them one at a time.

The concept of the availability of food involves issues of production and distribution. The availability of food means that there is sufficient food—physical availability at the household, community, state and/or international levels—to provide food for everyone. For the majority of the hungry in the world, self-production or production within their community is the primary means of ensuring the physical availability of food for them and their families. For others in the world availability involves the distribution of food and food products to humanitarian or retail outlets within their community.