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Rights-based food systems and the goals of food systems reform


  • Molly Anderson



Food security, health, decent livelihoods, gender equity, safe working conditions, cultural identity and participation in cultural life are basic human rights that can be achieved at least in part through the food system. But current trends in the US prevent full realization of these economic, social, and cultural rights (ESCR) for residents, farmers, and wageworkers in the food system. Supply chains that strive to meet the goals of social justice, economic equity, and environmental quality better than the dominant globalized food value networks are gaining popularity in the US. However, achieving important human rights has become conflated with other goals of food system reform over the past decade, such as being “community-based,” local, and sustainable. This conflation confuses means, ends, and complementary goals; and it may lead activists trying to help communities to regain control of their food system choices into less productive strategies. This paper introduces a new concept, rights-based food systems (RBFS), and explores its connection with localization and sustainability. The core criteria of RBFS are democratic participation in food system choices affecting more than one sector; fair, transparent access by producers to all necessary resources for food production and marketing; multiple independent buyers; absence of human exploitation; absence of resource exploitation; and no impingement on the ability of people in other locales to meet this set of criteria. Localization and a community base can help achieve RBFS by facilitating food democracy and reducing environmental exploitation, primarily by lowering environmental costs due to long-distance transportation. Sustainability per se is an empty goal for food system reform, unless what will be sustained and for whom are specified. The RBFS concept helps to clarify what is worth sustaining and who is most susceptible to neglect in attempts to reform food systems. Localization can be a means toward sustainability if local food systems are also RBFS. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Suggested Citation

  • Molly Anderson, 2008. "Rights-based food systems and the goals of food systems reform," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 25(4), pages 593-608, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:agrhuv:v:25:y:2008:i:4:p:593-608
    DOI: 10.1007/s10460-008-9151-z

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Huang, Sophia Wu & Gale, H. Frederick, Jr., 2006. "China's Rising Profile in the Global Market for Fruits and Vegetables," Amber Waves, United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, April.
    2. Pretty, J.N. & Ball, A.S. & Lang, T. & Morison, J.I.L., 2005. "Farm costs and food miles: An assessment of the full cost of the UK weekly food basket," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 30(1), pages 1-19, February.
    3. Chambers, R. & Conway, G. R., 1991. "Sustainable rural livelihoods: Practical concepts for the 21st century," IWMI Books, Reports H032821, International Water Management Institute.
    4. Timothy A. Wise, "undated". "05-07 "Identifying the Real Winners from U.S. Agricultural Policies"," GDAE Working Papers 05-07, GDAE, Tufts University.
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    Cited by:

    1. Daniel Block & Noel Chávez & Erika Allen & Dinah Ramirez, 2012. "Food sovereignty, urban food access, and food activism: contemplating the connections through examples from Chicago," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 29(2), pages 203-215, June.
    2. repec:spr:agrhuv:v:34:y:2017:i:3:d:10.1007_s10460-016-9754-8 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Sini Forssell & Leena Lankoski, 2015. "The sustainability promise of alternative food networks: an examination through “alternative” characteristics," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 32(1), pages 63-75, March.
    4. Shareen Hertel & Corinne Tagliarina, 2012. "Regional Party Politics and the Right to Food in India," Economic Rights Working Papers 20, University of Connecticut, Human Rights Institute.
    5. Eleni Papaoikonomou & Matías Ginieis, 2017. "Putting the farmer’s face on food: governance and the producer–consumer relationship in local food systems," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 34(1), pages 53-67, March.
    6. Megan Carney, 2012. "Compounding crises of economic recession and food insecurity: a comparative study of three low-income communities in Santa Barbara County," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 29(2), pages 185-201, June.


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