Food and the Law – Global News Roundup – May Edition

Changing legislation, ongoing litigation, and new policy recommendations constantly shift the ways in which laws affect our human rights. Here’s a quick look at recent news from around the globe arising at the intersection of food, the law, and human rights:

  • In Canada, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food conducted an official visit, concluding that there are unacceptable rates of food security and calling for the creation of a national food strategy. His visit touched off a national debate on food issues, with his remarks drawing both strong support and fierce critics.
  • In India, MS Swaminathan introduced the Women Farmers’ Entitlements Bill in the Rajya Sabha (upper house). I’ve been told that it may take months for the bill to be discussed, and that the bill will likely not be taken up for legislation, both because a private member introduced it and because agricultural issues are generally addressed at the state level. However, introduction of the bill is a good step towards acknowledging the particular situation of women farmers in India, who often lack enforceable rights to land and other resources.
  • In Mexico, small farmers temporarily blocked proposed legislation that would extend intellectual property rights protections on seeds and plant materials, including new coverage for genetically modified organisms. Organizations supporting farmers are considering further legal action to stop the bill from going forward.
  • In South Africa, a magistrate ruled that certain communities have a constitutionally protected customary right to fish. The case arose after three members of the Hobeni community attempted to fish in an area they had traditionally used, but that is now protected by the Marine Living Resources Act (18 of 1998). Conservation efforts have had a negative impact on the community’s ability to earn a livelihood. While the magistrate found that there was a constitutionally protected customary right to fish, he also convicted the community members of contravening the Marine Living Resources Act, noting that he could not determine the constitutionality of the law itself. The community members, represented by the Legal Resources Centre, will challenge their conviction in the high court.
  • In the United States, the House held hearings on the Farm Bill, while Senators and Representatives prepared for Farm Bill battles in June. Regardless of the outcomes, there’s not much potential for a great bill.
  • Also in the United States, the Senate and the House both passed versions of the Violence against Women Act, yet have not been able to reconcile their versions. A Human Rights Watch researcher noted that the Act is important for protecting immigrant farmworkers, many of whom are at risk of sexual violence or harassment; she stated that while the Senate version is not great, the House version would make things much worse for women.

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