What Does the Future Hold for the Right to Food?

By Carrigan English

Vanderbilt’s Journal of Transnational Law hosted its biennial Symposium on January 25, 2024. The Symposium, titled “The Future of the Right to Food,” featured four panels and two keynote lectures with experts in the areas of food law, international law, and environmental law.

The Symposium addressed key issues concerning food security, specifically impacts from international conflict, starvation as a method of warfare, international trade implications, and potential effects of climate change on the future availability of food. Professor Ingrid Brunk began the Symposium with an introduction to the topic, underscoring the timeliness of understanding the importance of food security within international discourse.

What is the Right to Food?

The first panel, “What is the Right to Food?,” provided a contemporary and contextual background on the right to food. Panelists described the fabric of policies and international structures that do and will play a major role in the right to food landscape. Understanding the current state of play is essential for creating change.


  • Michael Roberts – Executive Director of the Resnick Center for Food Law and Policy, Professor from Practice, UCLA Law
  • Danielle Resnick – Senior Research Fellow, International Food Policy Research Institute
  • Gregory Thaler – Assistant Professor, Department of International Affairs, University of Georgia

Takeaways from the panel, “What is the Right to Food?”:

  1. Food is power and intrinsically intertwined with the law; we are in a fluid point in time that paves the way for substantial change in international law and food law.
  2. It is the role of the United Nations to distinguish between terminology “food security,” “the right to food,” and “food sovereignty,” to best create a legal package that protects each of these separate subjects.
  3. “Urgency discourse” can become a dangerous trap as organizations attempt to quickly define a right to food; we must remember that the right has to be realized in a way that is ecologically and socially equitable.

First Keynote Lecture

The first keynote lecture, provided by Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the First Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, discussed methods by which a right to food can be achieved in a politically divergent society.

Takeaways from Moreno-Ocampo’s Keynote:

  1. Using and aligning geopolitical interests is a key method for obtaining a defined right to food. Something new must be invented to achieve this goal; current approaches in international law will not suffice.
  2. When prosecuting the illegal use of food obstruction as a weapon, the intent to starve victims, even if effects are delayed, should be enough to prove the cause element.

The Right to Food during International Conflict

The second panel, “The Right to Food during International Conflict,” analyzed contemporary international law framework in litigating certain international crimes pertaining to food security and starvation while incorporating broader policy impacts on international conflict.


  • Luis Moreno-Ocampo – First Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court
  • Oliver Windridge – Senior Advisor, The Sentry
  • Michael Newton – Professor of the Practice of Law, Vanderbilt Law School; Director, International Legal Studies Program; Director, Vanderbilt-in-Venice Program; Director, International Law Practice Lab

Takeaways from “The Right to Food during International Conflict”:

  1. There exists ongoing tension between the legal obligations for international crimes and the broader ecosystem in which it exists, i.e. examining the facts of the conflict alongside who else may be involved.
  2. Corporate decision-making has become a larger factor in effecting fundamental human rights and could impact what a right to food may entail.
  3. Disrupting access to food is a weapon used during conflict that has both immediate and long-term consequences (such as through the razing of crops), illustrating that the effects of wartime tools are not necessarily all acute.

The Impact of Food Security on International Trade

The third panel, “The Impact of Food Security on International Trade,” examined trade barriers and sanctions individually and discussed their implications on food security.


  • Daniel Chow – Frank E. and Virginia H. Bazler Chair in Business Law
  • Jonathan Poling – Partner, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, LLP

Takeaways from “The Impact of Food Security on International Trade”:

  1. Trade barriers, notably in the context of food, create a collective action issue amongst self-interested nations.
  2. The World Trade Organization is unable to remedy this issue and will be unlikely to remedy this issue in the future due to increasing opposition to the organization.
  3. Food delivery to sanctioned countries can create a large hindrance to the availability of food in some countries. Sanctions also can affect agriculture companies, such as through fines for exporting seeds, frozen poultry, etc.

Second Keynote Lecture

The second keynote lecture, provided by Yousuf Syed Khan, Senior Lawyer with the Global Rights Compliance, focused on starvation as a method of warfare, specifically touching on Mr. Khan’s expertise in South Sudan, Syria, and Ukraine.

Takeaways from Khan’s Keynote:

  1. NAIC Amendment and Resolution 2417 allowed for the first research to be conducted on starvation as a method of warfare.
  2. Starvation in Ukraine is occurring in three separate phases:
    1. Laying siege to civilian areas and cutting off access to essential items,
    2. Pattern attacks against civilian infrastructure, and
    3. Weaponizing agriculture by preventing or restricting exports of Ukrainian grain, characterized by repeated attacks against grain facilities

The Future of Food in an Uncertain Climate

The fourth panel, “The Future of Food in an Uncertain Climate,” debated the benefits and costs of different mitigation and adaptation strategies available in public and private governance to combat food shortages brought on by climate change.


  • Ore Koren – Associate Professor, Political Science, University of Indiana-Bloomington
  • Michael Vandenbergh – David Daniels Allen Distinguished Chair in Law; Director, Climate Change Research Network; Co-Director, Energy, Environment and Land Use Program

Takeaways from “The Future of Food in an Uncertain Climate”:

  1. In analyzing environmental peacebuilding, one must consider which type of adaptation protects against direct and indirect effects of stabilizing food production (i.e., which approach casts the widest net to offer the most robust protection?).
  2. In the case of some coastal cities, a combination of both adaptation and mitigation (“adapt to mitigate”) may become necessary to protect the community and their exports.
  3. Due to ongoing conflicts both domestically and internationally, a combination of efforts from both public and private parties will likely become necessary to mitigate CO2 emissions and protect agricultural production in the future.