What is food safety and how is it linked to food security?

A quick scan of the DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security will demonstrate how inextricably food safety and food security are linked. Food safety is firmly located within the universally recognized and adopted definition of food security by the Food and Health Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The FAO in its’ fact sheet defines a country to be food secure when all people at all times have economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food, which underscores that without food safety there can’t be effective food security. 

What is the link between food safety and human rights? 

In the devastating aftermath of World War II, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) meeting in Paris adopted resolution 217 (A) in 1948 culminating in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This declaration was intended to be universally applicable and to supersede all domestic law to create a base of equitable rights and standards worldwide. Article 25 (1) of the declaration provides the legal basis affording all humans the right to access sufficient food. 

Domestically in South Africa, the post-Apartheid constitution (27) (1) (b) (Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996) endowed all who live in the country with an inalienable political right to “sufficient food and water”, though problematically it doesn’t articulate what amount is sufficient or which tier of government is responsible to fulfil the mandate. Brittany Kesselman linked this political right to food justice within the socioeconomic context of South Africa. Her study noted that South Africa still has a long road to travel to meet this constitutional and universal right imperative. To this end, in 2013, a report by the Legal Resources Centre noted that the state of unmet human rights in South Africa was a ‘state of unconstitutional affairs’. 

What are the implications of poor or inadequate food safety governance? 

Food security is more than agriculture. It’s about access, safety, nutrition and government (as well as nongovernmental) policies that promote a healthy wellbeing for all. For Maslow (1948), food was a base physiological need, which he argued if not met, the pyramid that culminated in life self-actualization could not be achieved.

Graphic courtesy of Saul McLeod, Simply Psychology, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, 2018

In 2015, the UNGA adopted resolution 70/1, which established 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Two years later the FAO (2018) issued a warning that an estimated 821 million people worldwide remained under-nourished and food insecure. According to the FAO, SDG Two – Zero Hunger – was not on track to eradicate hunger by 2030. South Africa will be hard pressed to achieve both SDGs and the localized National Development Plan by 2030 without securing sufficient, safe and nutritious food. Walthouse (2014) stated that chronic hunger and malnutrition affect all aspects of education and life because food is the fuel the human body requires to undertake all activities. Effects include: increased vulnerability to lifestyle diseases; lowered immunity leading to chronic illness; behavioural problems and environmentally induced mental illnesses. In the South African context, it is particularly devastating, since it places an enormous burden on the public education and health sectors as well as initiatives to overcome the nearly 30% unemployment rate and the shameful recognition as the most inequitable country in the world. This again points to the need to prioritize food safety and nutrition within broader food security and socioeconomic imperatives and yet in his 2019 State of the Nation address, President Ramaphosa gave food security a passing reference. A week later, in the budget speech, it was not mentioned at all. 

What advice can we give to the South African government that access to safe and nutritious food is an overdue and yet critical right? 

The advice is equally simple. First recognize food safety as a core pillar of food security. Second acknowledge that food security is a human and political right long overdue to be a lived right. Third understand that where not achieved, it breaks the pyramid of socioeconomic success including achieving the SDGs and NDP by 2030. Fourth progress will not occur overnight but it can start in 2020 with being prioritized in the mid-term budget. Fifth bring together experts in prevention, identification, containment, governance and law to in earnest draft new legislation with accompanying regulations and a clear work study that maps the actors, their responsibilities, linkages and points to leverage incorporating the numbers and skills required with well-defined response plan and chain of command in both ongoing day to day processes and times of crisis.

In conclusion, what is the link with Human Rights Day?

Human Rights Day is commemorated on the 21st March in South Africa, this being its 25th anniversary. It is a reminder of the inhumanities people of colour suffered, specifically acknowledging the 69 killed and 180 people injured by the police in what is now known as the Sharpeville massacre, given it was a peaceful protest against racial discrimination. This year as we observe Human Rights Day, let us be an active citizenry that not only remembers the injustices of the past but focuses on the inequalities of the present. Let us invite a struggling student for a meal, drop off food supplies (whatever your budget allows) at a children’s or homeless shelter, take fresh fruit to work and give it as care packages to those who earn the least or even start planting the seeds for a vegetable garden at your work or in your community to create sustained assistance. It’s a small start, but the biggest successes can come from the few individuals willing to make a difference. On the 21st March look up at the stars that shine from the victims of Sharpeville and let them see that we keep their memory alive, not through words, but deeds that work towards fulfilling all human rights for all our people. 

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