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U.N. Special Rapporteur Urges Member States To Take Action in Securing the Right to Food in New Thematic Report

Nov. 7, 2023 (New York, NY)United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng, has called on U.N. member states to use legislation to ensure equal access for everyone to nutritious and safe food. Dr. Tlalang Mofokeng, joined by prominent global health and policy leaders, publicly released a new report, “Food, nutrition and the right to health,” which demonstrates why addressing food security and nutrition are necessary elements for global progress.

“Nothing humanizes all of us and bonds us more than food,” she said. “Equitable access to food and nutrition is both a necessity for sustainable development and a reflection of the power asymmetries that dictate health outcomes, such as undernutrition and noncommunicable diseases. Through the technical content of this report, we can get back to creating and co-creating a world that is conducive to the dignity of all people.”

During a panel discussion, where she was joined by Estefania Palomino, The Aspen Institute; Dr. Neena Prasad, Bloomberg Philanthropies; Isabel Barbosa, O’Neill Institute; and Sandra Mullin, Vital Strategies; Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng urged governments to prioritize their citizens’ right to food as a necessary step towards equity.

“At the most basic level, equity in the food and nutrition space is about ensuring everyone in the world has access to healthy, safe, affordable, culturally appropriate foods that promote well-being and health,” said Dr. Neena Prasad, Director of the Food Policy Program at Bloomberg Philanthropies.  

In her report, the Special Rapporteur noted how children, racial and ethnic minorities, and socially disadvantaged communities are relentlessly targeted by the food and beverage industry through their predatory marketing of ultra-processed products that have largely replaced traditional, healthier diets, leading to severe health harms.

“We’re just simply not holding the food industry as accountable as they ought to be,” said Sandra Mullin, Senior Vice President, Policy Advocacy and Communication at Vital Strategies. “Food companies are getting away with murder in terms of the impact they’re having on people’s lives.”

Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng’s report clearly explains that when viewing these issues through a rights-based framework, it becomes clear that policies such as front-of-package warning labels and sugary drink taxes are the responsibility of the state to protect all its citizens’ right to health. Governments have a clear duty to intervene when large, multinational food and beverage companies infringe on basic human rights by replicating colonial power structures.

“There’s not a silver bullet,” said Isabel Barbosa, Senior Associate, Health and Human Rights Initiative at the O’Neill Institute, describing the potential of progressive food policies. “It’s not about adopting one [policy] or another. They need to be adopted together so we can be successful at changing the food environment.”

The findings of this report, and its application of a rights-based framework, will inform and propel the efforts of individual actors and organizations working around the world to champion the right to food. Within the report, Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng identifies new and emerging trends related to the impact of climate change, conflict and COVID-19 on food and nutrition and outlines future responses. In addition, she highlights the clear potential of progressive, evidence-supported policies, such as front-of-package warning labels and marketing restrictions, that can protect consumers, especially children, and improve the broken global food system.

“We all believe in dignity. We all believe in non-discrimination, equality, transparency, accountability,” said Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng. “So why are we not working together as opposed to looking too much at what divides us, especially in the human rights movement? We ought to be doing a lot more of what unities us and move forward with that.”

Read the full report here.

To watch a recording of the panel discussion, click here.

To read a brief summarizing the report from the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, click here.

To listen to Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng’s interview on the most recent episode of the VitalTalks Listen podcast, click here.

About The Aspen Institute 

The Aspen Institute is a global nonprofit organization committed to realizing a free, just, and equitable society. Founded in 1949, the Institute drives change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the most important challenges facing the United States and the world. To find out more, please visit: or Twitter @AspenInstitute. 

About The Food Policy Program:

The Food Policy Program supports the enactment and evaluation of policy efforts that aim to move people toward healthier diets around the world. The program focuses its work in Brazil, Jamaica, Barbados, Colombia and South Africa. The program works with civil society organizations and research institutions to promote strong policies supported by the best available evidence, including raising taxes on sugary beverages, introducing front-of-package nutrient labels, limiting children’s exposure to unhealthy food and beverage marketing, and promoting healthy food policies for the public sector. With increased public and political support, our partners advocate for policy changes that reduce consumer demand for unhealthy foods and beverages, improve the food environment and make healthier choices accessible for all. For more information on the Food Policy Program, please visit:

About The Global Center for Legal Innovation on Food Environments at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law

The O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law (Georgetown Law) was established in 2007 to respond to the need for innovative solutions to the most pressing global health concerns. In bringing together experts from both the public health and legal fields, the O’Neill Institute reflects the importance of public and private law in health policy analysis. Housed at the O’Neill Institute, the Global Center for Legal Innovation on Food Environments builds connections between legal scholarship and applied initiatives around food and health policy. It generates and disseminates legal research, strengthens capacity in the field, and provides technical assistance to international organizations, governments, and civil society. To find out more, please visit: or Twitter @oneillinstitute. 

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. We work with governments and civil society in more than 80 countries to design and implement evidence-based strategies that tackle their most pressing public health problems. Our goal is to see governments adopt promising interventions at scale as rapidly as possible. To find out more, please visit or Twitter @VitalStrat.