Advocates for reforming the nation’s food programs and policies have joined the congressional ratings game, scoring the voting records of every member of the House and Senate on issues ranging from food safety and school lunches to farm subsidies and pesticide regulation.
The first report cards issued by a new coalition called Food Policy Action, posted online on Tuesday evening, appear to be a blessing for one party and a bane for another. All 50 lawmakers who received perfect scores of 100 were Democrats, while all 48 members with scores below 20 were Republicans.
Three House members received ratings of zero: GOP Reps. Mark Amodei of Nevada, Steven Stivers of Ohio, and Robert Turner of New York.
“We’re just the scorekeeper,” said Scott Faber, vice president for government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, one of the leaders of Food Policy Action.
Faber said that the coalition found 39 key votes have been taken on food policy in the current Congress and it scored members on 32 of those votes. Points were awarded to members when they sided with the coalition’s position, including on votes to limit federal subsidies to large commercial farms, to increase funding for school lunches and meals for the poor, to improve food safety, and to maintain conservation programs.
There are many Republicans who received above-average scores from the coalition, especially members from the Northeast and Midwest, including some who cosponsored bipartisan amendments on food policy, Faber added.
For instance, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, received a rating of 53 and sponsored an amendment to require a federal study of genetically modified salmon before it could be allowed in the food supply. The measure failed in May on a vote of 50-46.
The board of directors for Food Policy Action includes leading advocates for policies that better address hunger, healthy eating, childhood obesity, food safety, consumer awareness, and environmental sustainability, leaders of the group said. They include Tom Colicchio, a celebrity chef and restaurateur; Gary Hirshberg, chairman of Stonyfield Farm; Mia Dell, chief lobbyist for the United Food and Commercial Workers; Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest; and Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group.
Dave Murphy, another Food Policy Action board member who founded the grassroots group Food Democracy Now! shortly after the 2008 elections, said the new coalition has been in the works for more than a year.
“A lot of people see there’s a strong movement going now on food policy,” Murphy said. “People care about these issues. I think the healthy-food movement will be overtaking the environmental movement in the next five years” in terms of public involvement, he said.
The “healthy-food movement” is at the top of the election agenda this year in California, where voters will decide Nov. 6 whether to require labeling of foods containing genetically modified crops. The food industry, which fiercely opposes the ballot proposal, is outspending advocates nearly 10-1 in advertising, but Proposition 37 is considered to have a chance of passage.
Food Policy Action is attempting to bring that political activism to Washington with the voting scorecards, which will be released annually, said Oxfam America President Raymond Offenheiser, another coalition board member.
“While many of us have begun voting with our forks, too few of us have been voting with our votes,” Offenheiser said. “That’s about to change. Now, legislators will think twice about casting votes in Congress to protect the narrow interests of well-heeled lobbyists above the will of people in their districts and hungry people around the world.”