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What is "Food Security"?

The definition of food security has been evolving over time. It is currently defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations as follows: "Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. The four pillars of food security are availability, access, utilization and stability. The nutritional dimension is integral to the concept of food security." (November, 2009)

As this definition illustrates, food security encompasses many dimensions of the agro-food system from "field to fork." Efforts towards achieving food security can focus on any phase within that system, which usually raises a range of complex and difficult .

Reducing the number of people suffering from food insecurity is among the Millenium Development Goals. MDG 1 is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; the target is by 2015 to halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger. This number now exceeds 1 billion.

What are the "Food Security Issues"?

The following examples are illustrative of the range of complex and difficult issues around the four pillars of food security (availability, access, utilization and stability), especially if it is assumed that the complex concept of "sustainability" is implicit in the [definition].

Where is food produced?
(land use & zoning; preservation of agricultural land; land tenure; urban and peri-urban agriculture; large-scale agrarian land acquisitions)

How is food produced?
("sustainable" agriculture; organic and conventional methods; seed policies (indigenous seed stock and high-yielding hybrids); genetically-modified crops; agrobiodiversity and intellectual property (plant breeders rights); subsistence farming and large scale agriculture; permaculture; resource use and allocation (e.g. biofuels, water and organic "waste" i.e. compost)

How is food transported?
(food sheds, food miles and "eating local;" north-south trade)

How is food distributed and marketed?
(market access; international trade rules; community-supported agriculture; vertically integrated agriculture; commodity markets)

How is food stored?
(food preservation; health and safety; food product labelling)

Who has access to food?
(food deserts, food banks, food cooperatives and municipal food policies; food shortages, famine and food aid)

How is the cultural heritage of food maintained?
(fast food; slow food movement; agro-food cultural landscapes)

What is "Food Justice"?

What is "food justice"?
The term "food justice" is sometimes used interchangeably with "food security." The concept is grounded in the view that enough food is produced to adequately feed the world's population and that food insecurity is largely due to inequitable distribution, because of lack of political will and inequities in the world's international trade and economic infrastructure. Food justice implies that legal concepts and the rule of law should govern the way that food is produced and distributed (i.e. food security through justice). Thus, inherent in "food justice" is the concept of the "right to food." The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food has defined this right as follows:

"The right to food is the right to have regular, permanent and free access, either directly or by means of financial purchases, to quantitatively and qualitatively adequate and sufficient food corresponding to the cultural traditions of the people to which the consumer belongs, and which ensures a physical and mental, individual and collective, fulfilling and dignified life free of fear."

There are evident similarities with the definition of <food security> and its four pillars (availability, access, utilization and stability). But it should be noted that while there is overlap between "food security" and "food justice" there is also division: Some advocates of "food justice" do not consider themselves advocates for "food security" because its supporters do not necessarily exclude use of the conventional agro-industrial complex and its practices. For that reason, some advocates of "food security" do not support the "food justice movement," and/or because of implied (or otherwise) calls by some of its proponents for socio-economic and political change.

The scope of food justice can extend to a justice call for all in the food system, from producers to field and factory workers, to eaters and communities. Most subscribers to food justice are calling for an ethical, fair and sustainable approach to the way that food is grown, harvested and marketed.

What is "Food Sovereignty"?

"Food sovereignty" has been defined as “the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.”  A full description of all that entails can be read in the Declaration of Nyeleni (2007).

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