From this article on the Guardian:

From UN hunger expert: US must recognize ‘right to food’ to fix broken system

In 2021, the US and Israel were the only countries to vote against a United Nations committee’s draft that asserted food as a human right

The US said the resolution contained “many unbalanced, inaccurate, and unwise provisions

What are these unbalanced, inaccurate, and unwise provisions?

And why did Israel vote against?


8 Answers 8


Not too sure what the Israel's motivation was, but for the US, the between-the-line essence from what the officials said would be this in simple terms:

The "right to food" is a positive right. Unlike the rest of the globally recognized human rights, guaranteeing it requires action, not refraining from action. To guarantee it, someone has to do work to produce and supply the food. Essentially, guaranteeing this right necessarily involves forcing a subset of the population to do what they don't want to — either work more/harder for same or less pay, or share their accumulated wealth.

Doing that is fundamentally inconsistent with the freedoms guaranteed by the US constitution, specifically freedom against involuntary servitude guaranteed by the 13th amendment.

To put it in even more simple terms, if everyone suddenly decides to just exercise their "right to food" and do nothing, where will the food come from?

  • Can you add links to the quotes you’re interpreting please Commented Apr 8 at 13:01

In the case of the USA, the expressed reasoning was primarily economic. As the USA Advisor for Economic and Social Affairs wrote:

The United States is concerned that the concept of “food sovereignty” could justify protectionism or other restrictive import or export policies that will have negative consequences for food security, sustainability, and income growth. Improved access to local, regional, and global markets helps ensure food is available to the people who need it most and smooths price volatility. Food security depends on appropriate domestic action by governments, including regulatory and market reforms, that is consistent with international commitments.

Reading between the lines a bit, the US government, as the governing body of the the largest agricultural exporter in the world, is likely concerned that "the right to food" could be interpreted in a manner that would affect the profitability of its exports.

They also write:

We also do not accept any reading of this resolution or related documents that would suggest that States have particular extraterritorial obligations arising from any concept of a “right to food,” which we do not recognize and has no definition in international law.

This is consistent with the general USA position toward obligations created by international law, which is to say, it generally dislikes them, and is fairly open about expressing that fact; many other countries may feel international law is an inconvenient obstacle to some of their domestic goals, but tend not to say so as openly.

They go into more detail here, which comes from a previous vote on a similar resolution but nonetheless seems relevant, where they also raise concerns about how the resolution would affect domestic pesticide regulations and the language around technology transfer (i.e. they are reluctant to ratify anything that would suggest an obligation to share technology with other countries).

They also write:

Strong protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights, including through the international rules-based intellectual property system, provide critical incentives needed to generate the innovation that is crucial to addressing the development challenges of today and tomorrow.

So they seem concerned, again, with the idea of the right to food undermining intellectual property rights, with some elements of this reading as potentially directed at China in particular.

As for Israel, I have not been able to find any expressed reasoning from the Israeli delegation—note that this was before the current famine in the Gaza Strip, which would give Israel a strong motivation to vote against the resolution in the present day—but it is worth noting that Israel is one of a few countries, along with countries such as Palau, that often votes along with the USA when it would not otherwise conflict with its policy goals, which the USA has historically often compensated by voting along with Israel in the UN under similar circumstances. More or less a question of geopolitical blocs, in essence.


The U.S. has always taken the position, going back to its refusal to recognize that the positive rights in the U.N. Declarations of Human Rights are enforceable law, that positive economic rights are something to be fulfilled through the political process, rather than being rights legally enforceable in court.

  • I remember US opposition about these kind of concerns as well. Have they ever indicated they (the US) were worried about being asked to foot the bill somehow? Commented Apr 6 at 2:27
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica I have no knowledge about this particular case but note that our recognition of a right to counsel for the accused translates into the government footing the bill if they can't. A positive right comes with a bill, we should be very careful about what we make a positive right. Commented Apr 6 at 23:36
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica Its less about footing the bill and almost all to do with sovereignty. The US does not recognize any non-US body to have a say in how the US conducts its business. The US disabilities act is pretty much the gold standard of disability protection worldwide and the UN version is something the US doesn't agree with. The US has an Invade The Hague Act for the ICC. If it is a law, right, or other international agreement that has any influence in domestic policy, the US will oppose it.
    – David S
    Commented Apr 10 at 22:40

Simply put, because it's a trap, like all "positive rights" are.

"The right to have a thing," whether it be food or any other thing, is an insidious way of avoiding describing it as "the right to force someone else to provide the thing to you." There's a reason they taught us in school to avoid the use of the passive voice: it's all too often abused to hide important details like this and deceive people into thinking that which is good is bad or vice versa.

The USA has a long history of opposing forcing one group of people to work to provide things to another group. We had a big war over it and everything, and a lot of us understand history well enough to see the concept of positive rights as not particularly different.

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    Is there an actual quote from a US policy expert or relevant official supporting this as being part of the issue the question raised though Commented Apr 8 at 13:06

It somewhat depends on the US administration in power, whether they recognize the right to food. Sayaman's answer points to the US rejection of "General Comment 12". The latter is mostly a repeat of some articles from the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights though. Wikipedia says on the latter that the US has signed but not ratified it. And adds:

United States – Amnesty International writes that "The United States signed the Covenant in 1979 under the Carter administration but is not fully bound by it until it is ratified. For political reasons, the Carter administration did not push for the necessary review of the Covenant by the Senate, which must give its 'advice and consent' before the US can ratify a treaty. The Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations took the view that economic, social, and cultural rights were not really rights but merely desirable social goals and therefore should not be the object of binding treaties. The Clinton Administration did not deny the nature of these rights but did not find it politically expedient to engage in a battle with Congress over the Covenant. The George W. Bush administration followed in line with the view of the previous Bush administration." The Obama Administration stated "The Administration does not seek action at this time" on the Covenant.

It's unfortunately difficult to get to the ref for the last bit, but I think "action" referred to [US] ratification.

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    BTW, the right also appears in the earlier UDHR, and the US has ratified that, but the conception is that the UDHR is not legally binding. Commented Apr 6 at 5:30

Although the United States government agrees with much that is stated in this resolution and, by its actions, has proven its profound commitment to promoting food security around the world, it cannot support this resolution as drafted.

As delegations are aware, the United States has consistently taken the position that the attainment of any "right to adequate food" or "right to be free from hunger" is a goal or aspiration to be realized progressively that does not give rise to any international obligations or diminish the responsibilities of national governments to their citizens.

In light of this long-standing view, the current resolution contains numerous objectionable provisions, including inaccurate textual descriptions of the underlying right, and unduly positive references both to General Comment 12, released in May 1999 by the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and to certain actions by the Special Rapporteur.

We hope in future years that the sponsors of the resolution will accommodate our proposed suggestions so that we can join in the adoption of a resolution on this tremendously important subject.


The U.S. was worried about some of the provisions that were added to the resolution. In other words, the U.S. wants to use its economic power to put pressure against pariah states such as Cuba, North Korea and Iran.

Israel, on the other hand, wants to deny Palestinians the right of having food on the table, because it would give the Palestinians more leverage over any conflict between them.

Since the Occupation began in 1967, Israel has confiscated thousands of dunums of land from Palestinian farmers and has used this land to build illegal Israeli settlements, settleronly roads, and the Separation Wall that runs through the West Bank. The 519 checkpoints, roadblocks, and other closures throughout the West Bank create extreme challenges for farmers attempting to reach their land and their markets.5 Farmers in the West Bank are also subject to repeated destruction and vandalism of their land and crops by the Israeli military and settlers. In Gaza, farmers have lost 25% of their most fertile agricultural land to the “buffer zone” that borders Israel. Israeli patrol boats further limit fishermen to only three nautical miles off the coast, just 15 % of Gaza’s legal territorial waters promised under the Oslo Accords.6 The Israeli blockade of Gaza continues to impede agricultural production and access to food and has rendered 80% of Gaza’s population dependent on international emergency food aid. Therefore, due to the effects of Israeli land and resource confiscation and destruction, Israeli imposed limitations on trade, environmental issues, and a growing global food crisis, Palestine is unable to achieve the food sovereignty that could enable the economic and social conditions necessary to reduce the levels of food insecurity.


The Palestinian legal system lacks explicit rules on the right to food protection. Moreover, there areno specific rules that guarantee food and nutrition security in Palestine. Nonetheless, Article (10) ofthe Basic Law of 2003 protects basic human rights and liberties and urges the PalestinianAuthority(PA) to work without delay to become a party to regional and international declarations andcovenants that protect human rights. Globally the International Law of Human Rights obviouslyacknowledges the right to food as a basic human right, and indeed links it to ensuring human dignity.The failure to ensure the application of relevant international covenants intended to ensure theeconomic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinian people under occupation should remain at theforefront of consideration when designing PA and international responses to food insecurity inPalestine. This also applies in the case of food security, since Israel is the sole party managingfoodstuff imports to Palestine. Nonetheless, the actual authority on the ground is also liable,particularly in emergency conditions caused by natural or human factors.


“Food Is One of the Easiest Ways to Control a Nation”

For centuries, food has been the basis of Palestinian subsistence. The reversal threatens their very livelihood. “Food is one of the easiest ways to control a nation,” Ziada says. “The freedom to produce our own food, the food that’s natural and endemic to our lands, is not a privilege in our case. It’s an absolute must.”


Speaking against the draft, Syria’s representative said its author lacks any moral or legal basis for tabling the text, as it is an occupying Power hindering development in Palestine and the Syrian Golan. People in the Syrian Golan are blocked from using their agricultural resources, she said, adding that Israel is using the United Nations to launch a false commitment towards sustainable development.

Similarly, the observer for the State of Palestine said the occupying Power tabling the resolution has continuously prevented Palestinians from using their agricultural resources by confiscating land and water as well as restricting cattle imports. In response, Israel’s representative noted that delegations hampering consensus on the draft are those who would benefit the most from it, but they prefer to put politics before the needs of their people.

By another draft, on “Combating sand and dust storms”, the Assembly would reaffirm that climate change is among the greatest challenges of our time and a serious challenge to sustainable development. It would further recognize that sand and dust storms cause numerous human health problems in different regions worldwide, especially in arid and semi-arid regions.

The draft was approved in a recorded vote of 171 in favour to 2 against (Israel, United States), with 1 abstention (Australia).



While many of the various answers (written by far more eloquent and able individuals than I) describe the US position regarding positive rights as being unconstitutional, I believe we must recall that, first and foremost, the US was hugely instrumental in formulating and ratifying the UDHR which includes several positive rights. Moreover the USA were likewise instrumental in authoring the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man which likewise contains several positive rights. While neither of these expressly mention the right to food, both are involved with another positive right: The right to life. As the USA has never adopted a right to life (vis state and federal executions) we can conclude that the USA is not overly concerned about positive endorsing rights; and these international declarations are fundamentally unenforceable. In a similar vein it's well-accepted that the USA currently considers, in many ways, the UN to be its unwanted bastard child. This latter may seem like a rather crass critique of the USA- but I seem to recall that there is some evidence to support it, in that the US (and other major economic powers of the day) envisaged the UN as being a means of the large nations steering the smaller nations to a better global future, whereas what happens is that, due to its democratic structure, the majority of nations determine UN agenda, rather than the rich nations. Therefore, while the USA were instrumental in instituting global declarations in the 1940's, the modern USA is loathe to have anything to do with such instruments.

From a global perspective, the fact that humanity produces a considerable annual excess of food while many populations starve should be deeply unsettling to anyone. But it should come to little surprise to anyone: on the international stage national self interest is, and always has been, the governing factor of every country. This self-interest is exacerbated by shortsightedness (a by-product of frequent elections) and disabled by the universal corruption of political bodies by power elites (both human and corporate).

Therefore, and in answer to the question, the USA and Israel voted against the right to food because they see no benefit to it for themselves, and neither do their respective electorates. The reasoning has absolutely nothing to do with enforceability nor does it have anything to do with positive rights: While the US electorate can speak for itself, my guess is that the current domestic economy is in decline,and that there are major domestic issues (job security, decline in personal wealth, threats to family security and health, and increases in the cost of living are the normal driving factors) which argue against the government investing in global projects (amongst many others) - because the electorate see no short term resolution for their immediate crises. Meanwhile the agricultural sector is not faring well in its domestic market, let alone the international one - with profits being made by large corporations while much of the farming community itself are struggling to make ends meet - and have been for quite some time. But it's not the farmers who would be lobbying against the right to food: One must 'follow the money' for that.

  • 1
    "neither do their respective electorates" - I think it's a mistake to believe that the actions of a government inherently reflect the wants and interests of its electorate. The electorate may well believe that food is a human right only for the government to vote against that for its own interests.
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Apr 8 at 9:57
  • @F1Krazy, agreed. However it is hard to argue that domestic shortfalls have no effect on the electorate's willingness to fund international/global projects.
    – Konchog
    Commented Apr 9 at 8:32
  • "...US position regarding positive rights as being unconstitutional" We do not regard positive rights as being 'unconstitutional'. A counterexample mentioned in other comments earlier being the right to an attorney to help with the defense against any criminal charges - even trivial ones (like speeding tickets). But not all 'positive rights' are equal. Some may, however unintentionally, lead to scenarios that are actually counter to American ideals on other human rights. It seems the U.S. government has consistently held that the Right to Food is potentially one of those positive rights.
    – ouflak
    Commented Apr 9 at 9:45
  • @ouflak, I won't argue the point, as I do not disagree: however such comments postdate my answer. But as the U.S. do not endorse nor honour the right to life, which it is signatory to, the argument of positive rights is moot when signing unenforceable resolutions. Therefore the decision not to sign is not founded on ethics nor principles nor constitutional constraints nor whether or not such rights are positive.
    – Konchog
    Commented Apr 9 at 10:17
  • @ouflak, I guess the main thrust of my answer is that the U.S. is no longer interested in attempting to be a "global statesman" - inasmuch it already has so much to address domestically. After all why believe you can address other people's problems while you cannot solve your own?
    – Konchog
    Commented Apr 9 at 10:23

I expect that the USA saw this right as socialism by other means. The USA was born as a business, and remains as one, despite all the trappings of statehood that it has. It's why its so hospitable to capitalism - the philosophy of the wealthy.

It's gotten to the stage where Elon Musk can, with a straight face, ask for a salary of 50 Billion dollars. Luckily a court threw this out as even they have realised just how outrageous this is.

The USA is only nominally a democracy, to be a true democracy it must find a more equitable arrangement of dividing its goods to every one rather than reserving them for the rich.

Israel likely voted against as then, as now, and as before, it had a blockade on Gaza. By agreeing to this right they would be immediately in breach of that agreement.

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    Elon Mush negotiated a deal with his board to get stock options as compensation. As a result of Tesla's market value doubling under his leadership, those stock options ended up having a value of $50 billion. Your framing of the events is deeply dishonest. This is more of a succession of socialist propaganda than an answer. Commented Apr 9 at 1:22
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    The first three paragraphs all contain at least 1 factually incorrect statement. The last paragraph requires citation or additional information as it makes, what is currently, a very debatable claim. The USA is not a business. Never has been one. Need lots of creativity and fantasy to bend the US government into a business. Elon has nothing to do with this question. No part of democracy has ever had any requirement on wealth distribution. State control over equitable arrangements of dividing goods are almost exclusively considered socialist or communist elements of government, not democratic.
    – David S
    Commented Apr 10 at 22:56
  • @Accumulation: Its not wrong on the facts - that Elon's Musk case for $50 billion renumeration was thrown out of court. How I want to interpret this for the purpose of my answer is my business. Commented Apr 14 at 3:14
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    @MoziburUllah My comment cited the factual disputes. 1: US is not a business. Your 1601 charters are some odd and erroneous sovereign citizen type of argument. Do you still call Australia a penal colony? Accumulation provided details around your inaccuracy with Elon, but its still irrelevant to the question. You've provided a completely false definition of a true democracy.
    – David S
    Commented Apr 15 at 16:21
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    @MoziburUllah "to be a true democracy it must find a more equitable arrangement of dividing its goods" That's part of your answer that provides an incorrect partial definition or required aspect. That statement adds the requirement for state control over distribution of goods, which is not part of what makes a democracy a democracy. The system of government, democracy, and the system of the economy, capitalism, are two separate concepts and are not interchangeable. I may be a little pedantic, but I discourage the idea that a rhetorical flourish should leave a reader possibly misinformed.
    – David S
    Commented Apr 15 at 22:17

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