CSM Statements on the Negotiations of the Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition

Since the onset of the negotiations of the CFS Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition, CSM has been highly committed and made many substantial contributions to bring in the priorities of its constituencies. CSM also  repeatedly expressed its concerns about an increasingly problematic way in which the process was conducted since April 2020, and the lack of political willingness of a number of governments to transform unsustainable corporate food systems.

As the negotiations drew to an end, the delegation of CSM’s Food Systems and Nutrition Working Group summarised the position of the Mechanism in three key statements.

CSM Opening Statement

25 January 2021 – First day of the 3rd round of the OEWG negotiations of the Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition

Firstly, we are witnessing how, at a time of global ecological and social crisis, which is becoming visible in the form of a pandemic, there is a clear inclination in the negotiations to avoid drawing attention to the responsibilities of the different actors, especially the responsibility of the agro-industrial model which is the one to blame both for the climate crisis and for nutritional deficiencies on a global scale.

This ignores the sense of urgency we are facing, the solution of which necessarily involves the transformation of food systems towards a fairer, more sustainable, resilient and healthier model. The urgency of the situation is not captured in the document. Even at a time when the SDGs are framing the work of many, the concept of sustainable food systems is being pursued with little or no mention of sustainability, which raises doubts about the ambition and goals of this process.

While some of us seek to guarantee rights, others seek to save interests. This is evidenced by the absence of a human rights-based approach as a core overarching element of these Guidelines. The right to food is barely mentioned, while human rights’ indivisibility and universality are mentioned in passing. There seems to be no desire to mention specific rights that are crucial for the most vulnerable, such as the right to health or the right to water.

Who are these guidelines for? We have already repeated on several occasions that for the CSM these guidelines are not a mere product, they speak to and impact directly on our lives, on the lives of our constituencies. We are therefore alarmed at the attempts to make some of them invisible, especially when they are the ones who feed us every day. The reference to peasants’ rights should be obvious in a document like this, yet today we see it in brackets, and it is being the subject of much debate in this process. For whom do we make food systems guidelines if we cannot name the pillar that underpins it? Alongside this attempt to make those who feed us invisible, there is also an attempt to render invisible the gateways that sustain our territories, local markets. Many do not want to include local markets in the guidelines, they do not even want to pay attention to their importance and the impacts from the global market that they are subject to.

It is unfortunate to see how a reformed CFS, whose prerogative is to put those most affected by hunger and malnutrition at the centre, is ignoring and side-lining these issues. This process does not seek to focus on the problems, let alone on finding consensus. It is instead allowing the inclusion of all demands, to everyone’s liking, with the result that many paragraphs are basically meaningless. Balance is not about being content in every paragraph but about balancing the whole text.  This leaves many key points out of the document. There’s no mention of fresh produce, ultra-processed products… To what or to whom do we answer if we do not focus on the issues that are crucial on our agendas today?

Far from considering food and sustainable and healthy food systems as a public good, and seeking a broad approach to achieve them, what is being sought here is to preserve the interests of a few. This is blatant when we see the adamance to not incorporate safeguards for potential conflicts of interest. It is about recognising the immense power imbalances within society and in this specific case within food systems.

Beyond this, we are perplexed at the fact that agreed language is being referenced in parts of the document that may be key to transformation but, at the same time, texts agreed at the CFS itself are not being accepted. Political processes such as agroecology and other innovative approaches constitute an example of this.

Allow us to use a metaphor to describe the current situation. While the forest is burning, it seems that some are only concerned about getting the best price for the burnt wood or to profit from the devastated land. This, which is serious in itself, is even more so when the responsibility of this space is to extinguish the fire and preserve the forest in all its diversity.

Let us remember that this burnt forest is 24,000 people dying of hunger every day, 18,000 of whom are children. Millions of people displaced by climate change, millions of peasants who are forced to leave their villages and millions of people who are sick with illnesses resulting from poor nutrition. All of them are part of our constituencies and all of them are the reason why we are here.  And all of them live in your states.

That is why we come to this week of negotiations with a responsibility and with the hope that this document will end up being useful in responding to the challenges that lie ahead of us. Hopefully this will mean facing them together, because only in this way will we be able to save the forest.

CSM closing statement

29 February 2021 – final day of the 3rd round of the CFS OEWG negotiations of the Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition

Thank you very much Mr. Chair and good afternoon to you, distinguished delegates. Let me start thanking our ancestors, those who preceded us in the search for justice, peace, and universal respect for human rights and protection for our planet earth.

We are the peoples of the United Nations and we continue believing in the principles spelled out in the UN Charter.

In the times of crisis that we are going through, we think that we need more than ever to stick to this principles because they enable us to live together in mutual respect and solidarity.

It was with a heavy heart that we walked out of the session of the Friends of the Chair session earlier this afternoon. After all, the reformed CFS is an open body to the participation of the constituencies most affected by hunger and food insecurity.

So, it has been the CFS, its guidelines and recommendations, which have made possible to increase the protection of the rights of peasants, fishers, rural workers, pastoralists and other people working and living in rural areas. So it has been the CFS in a way the one who paved the way for the UN declaration of the Rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas.

I am recalling this long history to stress that we cannot compromise on matters of principle.

Putting footnotes on UNDROP, the Right to Development, the Seeds Treaty and other instruments of human rights and international humanitarian law is undermining the international legal system. It is not to this body to negotiate or undermine this instruments.

We cannot be complicit to this.

We will oppose this in CFS Plenary and we will also our notes of protest to the respective UN bodies.

I think several of our red lines were crossed in these negotiations. We have been reiterating this point.

Let me recall that our mandate comes from our constituencies. They are the ones who have entrusted us with a mandate to speak here for them about their needs, about their rights and aspirations. So they will continue working for this and if this guidelines don’t respond to their demands and their needs, they won’t use them, and in some cases they may even oppose them, because they may be harmful for their rights.

I think we have used agreed language from the CFS to advance our issues here. And this shows that we have been already been flexible and we have already compromised, because CFS language is not our language, it is your language. You have decided and committed to these policies. And we have defended our positions with this language, using this language. So, therefore, you are the ones who vote, you are the ones to decide in this body, and we have simply uphold that language to advance our issues.

Let me also say that these negotiations have been extremely difficult during the pandemic. I think the online modalities of negotiating, makes it very difficult for people on the ground, for our constituencies, to really be able to follow. I think, rushing through very complex and substantive issues, with the pressure to finish in time for the Food Systems Summit, has not been useful at all, and in fact, it has led us to a situation where these guidelines are empty of normative ambition to really be able to push for the radical transformation of industrial food systems that we urgently need on the ground.

Finally, Mr Chair and distinguished delegates, we will stay in the last session of this Open Ended Working Group, monitoring your ongoing deliberations.

We will get back to our constituencies and assess whether we can endorse these guidelines or not. Thank you very much.

Final Statement

4 February – Extraordinary session of the CFS OEWG negotiations of the Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition

Right to water, sustainability, planet boundaries, transformation of unsustainable food systems, agro-ecology, local markets, healthy and sustainable diets…

These are some of the words that member states have decided to leave out of these guidelines, or render almost invisible. Guidelines on food systems and nutrition, if that is how they will be called, that do not respond at all to the mandate or the ambition they were originally supposed to have. In fact, they do not, because months ago, this group forgot where the mandate came from and the space we were in, in order to respond to the times and the dictates of a summit that may have its importance, but should in no way replace the most inclusive space that exists, or so we thought, to address food security issues.

In the midst of a crisis in which the planet is speaking to us more and more clearly, a large number of negotiating governments have chosen to ignore this urgent call. At a time when people are demanding transformation, you have decided not to listen to them. You have preferred to preserve interests rather than rights and continue to ensure the status-quo of a few while for many everything worsens. This process has ignored a pandemic situation, not adapting for the benefit of the people, while it has adapted for the benefit of a reduced group of others.

We see the CFS as an inclusive space, with clear rules, whose purpose is to respond to today’s food security challenges. This process does not fulfil this purpose, neither in content nor in form. We have witnessed a totally irregular process, with hours and hours of Friends of the Chair, this theoretically “informal” space in which everything was supposed to be resolved, but where most of the current document has been negotiated in non-inclusive conditions, with no possibility of reopening issues in the open-ended group. We have clearly seen how flexibility was not the same for all, and how the process has not had a methodology or clear forms, nor has it been appropriate for the times we are living in. We have even seen how not even the language of the CFS is accepted by the CFS itself, we have seen how the CFS seeks to renegotiate here what we do not like in other agreements when it is not appropriate, and we have insisted on the attempt to undermine the principles of multilateralism and human rights.

In terms of content, some of the key points that have been left out have already been mentioned and, as CSM has repeated many times, many of our red lines are there. What we find difficult to accept is that some of them are not also yours. This text mentions “evidence” up to 37 occasions, while at the same time refuses to see the obvious, the need for transformation and the reports that point to the fact that other models are not only necessary, but essential. They have decided to choose the evidence that proves them right. The interests of agro-exporting countries and corporate agribusiness have dominated. We do not know which is better to believe, that they protect certain short-term interests, that they are simply foolish, or perhaps they are simply blind or immune to the consequences of the global crises.

This whole process has become impossible to believe up until the point that the last day of negotiation comes barely a week before plenary where the guidelines are supposed to be approved  with no time for a good translation, (we have also seen in this process how the translations were not adequate), no time for consultations and no time to comply with the basic CFS rules. As we have said before, this is no longer a question of who benefits from the content, this is a question of ensuring that this space, the CFS, is what it is supposed to be. Therefore, looking at all that has been described, it is clear to us that we are not going to have time to make a good process for the plenary and we wonder if and how you can do it. We ask this question, which we are asking ourselves, you too, and in particular the governments of the low income and food dependent countries: do you really believe that this document is acceptable to you, is it ripe for your approval? We wonder under what circumstances you intend the debate to take place and even how legitimate it would be to approve this in one week and whether this, in addition to all the above, responds to the mandate that the CFS gave at the time.

From the Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism we come to this moment with a lot of sorrow, we have really put a lot of energy into this process, nobody can deny that our commitment and our contributions have been constant and substantial until the end of last week. It is because as we have repeated before, for us it is not a product, it is our lives. Today we can say that we need a process of reflection on these guidelines that will not be completed in one week, our constituencies have to look at this text and see if in any way it contributes something on the road to food systems that really feed us. Our impression right now is that it does not, but as an inclusive and broad Mechanism we will listen to all voices before making a decision and it is probably not possible to make this decision in 7 days. We also ask you to still evaluate whether you can effectively support these problematic processes and an unsatisfactory, unfinished outcome, with so many failures and gaps in the face of today’s multiple crises and the rights of future generations and mother earth.

In view of this situation, we have decided not to make any further contributions to today’s debate. It is the responsibility of the member states to decide and review their course. There is still time. We are not withdrawing yet: we continue to monitor what you are doing, because you as governments are accountable to the citizens of the world.


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