Smita Narula


In 2009, the number of hungry in the world crossed the one billion

mark, a dubious milestone that has been attributed in large part to

consecutive food and economic crises. Over ninety-eight percent of these

individuals live in the developing world. Ironically, a great majority are

involved in food production as small-scale independent food producers or

agricultural laborers. These facts and figures signal a definitive blow to

efforts to reduce global hunger and lift the world's poorest from abject and

dehumanizing poverty. They also bring to light the deep imbalance of

power in a fundamentally flawed food system.

Responses to the current crisis have emphasized the responsibility of

states to realize the right to adequate food, and have called for greater

coordination and cooperation between states, civil society organizations,

international institutions, and private sector actors. These calls

conspicuously fail to attribute specific obligations or responsibilities to

global actors that have had a profound and often devastating impact on the

right to food, and whose policies and practices were instrumental in

facilitating the current food crisis.

Under economic globalization, the power exerted by global actors such

as dominant states, international financial institutions (IFIs), and

transnational corporations (TNCs), has wreaked havoc on the global food

system and has made it increasingly difficult for weaker states to assert full

control over policies that are central to their ability to fulfill the right to

food. Yet these actors are not given equal consideration in international

policy prescriptions, or under international law.

This Comment explores both the urgency and paucity of the "right to

food" as a legal and normative framework for addressing the current food

crisis. It begins with an articulation of the contours and limits of the right to

food under international human rights law, which organizes itself around

the obligations of states to individuals in their jurisdiction. It then explores

how powerful states, IFIs, and TNCs affect the right to food abroad both

directly and indirectly by impeding the ability of states to fulfill their

economic and social rights obligations. The Comment concludes by

addressing particular doctrinal challenges that are essential to reclaiming

the right to food as a relevant normative framework under economic