Food Policy Action grades Congress on ‘food movement’ issues

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Oct. 17, 2014 --- Food Policy Action, a group that formed in 2012 “to hold legislators accountable on votes that have an effect on food and farming,” has released its latest scorecard for members of the 113th Congress. 

Ken Cook, Food Policy Action's board chairman and president of the Environmental Working Group, said one of the most important aspects of the scorecards is letting constituents know how their representatives are voting.

Lets Talk Food

“Voters care very deeply about food,” he said. “This is a way to bring the ‘food movement' together.”

Food Policy Action gave 71 lawmakers - 54 House members and 17 senators - perfect scores of 100, while 35 legislators - 26 from the House and nine senators -- received scores of zero.

Senators were graded on a combination of six votes and their support of eight bills related to hunger, food aid, labeling, agricultural subsidies and sustainable farming, while House members were scored on 18 votes and support of 12 bills.

Food Policy Action is the first national organization to publish an annual scorecard that grades lawmakers on congressional food policy votes. An advisory council chooses which votes are relevant and should be scored, while the Food Policy Action board approves or rejects those choices.

Board members include leaders of Environmental Working Group, Humane Society of the United States, Union of Concerned Scientists, Stonyfield Farm, Natural Resources Defense Council, Oxfam America and Bread for the World. Members of the advisory council include representatives from some of the same groups as well as from Chipotle, Center for Food Safety, Organic Trade Association, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and United Food and Commercial Workers.

While every lawmaker who received a score of zero is Republican, Cook says the group does not want to make food issues partisan. “In many cases, Republicans scored higher than their Democrat counterparts,” he said, noting that Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska - both Republicans -- had high scores. Collins' score was 75 while Murkowski's was 100.

The group gave 136 members higher scores than in its first year, 2012. However, 275 members, including 82 Democrats and 193 Republicans, received lower scores than 2012. The group also scored several members lower than it did in 2013, mostly due to farm bill amendment votes, explained Claire Benjamin, Food Policy Action's managing director. 

Legislation for which the lawmakers could receive positive points included “Right to Know” GMO labeling bills in the House and Senate, as well as measures that attempted to prohibit the use of antibiotics in livestock. Legislation for which they could receive negative points include the House bill that would prevent EPA from enforcing its proposed “waters of the United States” definition, as well as any bill that reduced funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which used to be known as food stamps..

The group says the Farm Bill that passed early this year after two years of debate contained “good” and “bad” provisions, but the entire bill “was not a clear win for good food policy.”

Food Policy Action favored the measures in the bill that required conservation compliance for crop insurance, as well as provisions supporting organic and local agriculture. However, they disapproved of the reductions in funding for SNAP, and the fact that the bill did not change the traditional structure of crop insurance and many farm programs. 

Tom Colicchio, a celebrity chef and a Food Policy Action board member, said members of Congress are taking notice of the scorecard, “because more and more people are joining this ‘food movement.'” He added that he hopes Food Policy Action's scorecard will encourage lawmakers to focus on how their votes affect food policy. “We're not going away,” he said, noting that the group plans to continue its annual scorecard.

Benjamin said the group is launching a digital campaign on Monday targeting Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., partly for his attempts to cut billions of dollars from SNAP funding. The campaign will attempt to appeal to women and young voters in his district. “He's known as the Congressman who took down the farm bill (in 2013) and we're looking to take him down,” Cook said.

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