On December 20, 2008, I read a blog article entitled: “U.S. votes against right to food’ in UN General Assembly”. Though the author of the blog had an obvious bias, I couldn’t dispute the United Nations General Assembly draft resolution that it discussed, document A/63/430/Add.2.
According to the resolution, the UN General Assembly members voted on the right to food and it was “adopted by a recorded vote of 184 in favour to 1 against (United States), with no abstentions.” This means that out of the 185 voting members of the General Assembly present at the meeting, the United States was the only dissenter, voting against helping individuals to gain access to food.
This resolution of December 2008 was based on, and built off of a previous resolution that was adopted in a General Assembly meeting in November 2008. At this meeting, “By a vote of 180 in favour to 1 against (United States) and no abstentions, the Committee also approved a resolution on the right to food, by which the Assembly would “consider it intolerable” that more than 6 million children still died every year from hunger-related illness before their fifth birthday, and that the number of undernourished people had grown to about 923 million worldwide, at the same time that the planet could produce enough food to feed 12 billion people, or twice the world’s present population.” Again, the United States was the only member to vote against the right to food.
Why did the United States vote this way?
After the vote in November, a representative of the United States answered that he was unable to support the test because he believed that the “attainment of the right to adequate food was a goal that should be realized progressively and that the draft contained inaccurate textual descriptions of underlying rights.”
In another vote, the United States was the only dissenter for a resolution that stipulated the provision of rights for the child with regards to education, health, and the right to food. With regards to this resolution, the representative said, again, that his delegation could not support the text as drafted because the United States felt that the attainment of the “right to adequate food” or the “right to be free from hunger” was a goal that “must be realized progressively” and the current resolution contained numerous objectionable provisions, including “inaccurate textual descriptions of underlying rights.”
For me, the explanation of the United States was not an explanation at all. What does it mean to realize the goal of adequate food progressively? What rights did the resolution inaccurately describe? I believe that if the United States did, indeed, consider adequate food to be a goal, it would not simply deny resolutions such as this, but try to work within them. Perhaps the United States has another goal, or another explanation that the representative failed to mention? The fact that we were the only country out of at least 180 countries to vote against these resolutions, and do so multiple times, shows that there is indeed a strong motivation for the United States to reject the right to food. As discussed in the books Stuffed and Starved and World Hunger: Twelve Myths, that motivation may be politically and economically aligned.
In order to enact the right to food, the UN General Assembly aims to give adequate priority to food security, eradicate poverty, deny the use of food as an instrument of political or economic pressure, and reduce negative human impacts on the environment. These are all measures that go against the interests of the United States because the United States benefits politically and economically from hunger throughout the world. When other countries cannot produce food for their own people, they must purchase food from the United States and thus, the United States is able to maintain control over the global food system. In fact, in instances of famine or hunger in another country, the United States uses its own food as an instrument of political and economic pressure. This phenomenon was seen in 2002, when Zambia experienced a drought and shortage of corn for its population; the United States offered to give genetically modified corn to the country not to feed Zambia’s people, but to create a market for the GM corn in Africa.
Studies of US foreign policy show many more examples of the United States’ abuse of the global food system. In World Hunger, we are told about US marketing of American wheat to South Korea to create a growing demand for wheat among South Koreans and several similar situations across countries in Asia, South America, and Africa. When countries require food in emergency situations, they rely on the United States to provide food, and the US responds by providing specific types of food to encourage future reliance on US products in the needy country. This helps the Unites States’ economy. Hunger also benefits the Unites States politically because the US can use its surplus of food as leverage to encourage other countries to abide by US foreign policy.
The United States has a history of exploiting the world food system and benefiting economically and politically from hunger in other countries. Though it is clear that the United States is not a proponent for the right to food, it is especially telling when it is communicated through a single dissenting vote at the General Assembly.