These Politicians Were Best—and Worst—for Food Policy in 2013

This vote-by-vote analysis rates every elected member of Congress on food stamp funding, GMO labeling, and more.

Agricultural workers cultivate romaine lettuce on a farm on Oct. 8 in Holtville, Calif. (Photo: John Moore/Getty Images)

Dec 10, 2013· 2 MIN READ
Clare Leschin-Hoar's stories on seafood and food politics have appeared in Scientific American, Eating Well and elsewhere.

Top Chef head judge Tom Colicchio wants voters to pay closer attention to important food policy issues and tell lawmakers who don’t make the grade to “pack their knives and go.”

But monitoring each and every congressional vote on important food policy laws ranging from the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act to the Kaptur Honeybee Research Amendment is simply too wonky for most eaters—even those who want to stay engaged.

Luckily, Food Policy Action released its second annual National Food Policy Scorecard Tuesday. The coalition of food policy and environmental groups graded senators on six votes and representatives on 13 votes related to hunger, food aid, food labels, and farm subsidies.

Of the 532 members of Congress, 87 scored perfectly on their food policy voting records—up from 50 lawmakers who earned perfect scores last year.

Advocacy groups across the political spectrum use scorecards to rate lawmakers on gun control, environmental protection, and more, so why not food policy? Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, believes they can help voters decide, and not just because he helped launch the group that relesed the report.

“The scorecard encapsulates where a member of the House or Senate stands on specific food policy issues,” he says. “It reflects the real views of lawmakers on hunger, food safety, subsidy reform, and more, and it tells you which issues are rising to the floor for debate. It was a tool that wasn’t available to the food movement until the last two years.”

Democrats, including names familiar to those in the food movement like Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y.; Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.; and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., received the vast majority of perfect scores, but Cook maintains the list is far less partisan than other congressional scorecards available.

On the Senate side, Lisa R. Murkowski, R-Alaska, scored a perfect 100, in part because of her strong stance on labeling for a genetically engineered salmon—a significant bump up from her score of 56 percent last year. On the House side, Christopher H. Smith of central New Jersey and Michael Fitzpatrick of eastern Pennsylvania were the highest-rated Republicans, both scoring 69 percent.

That said, all the bottom dwellers on the list were Republicans: 10 senators and 28 representatives from that party scored zeros on the scorecard, meaning they voted against every important policy and failed to support any improvements.

“Some Republicans did quite well, but this year the Farm Bill came to the floor. Anti-hunger efforts that were once a bipartisan commitment have now become partisan, and House Republicans took votes along party lines. That was an important shift this year,” says Cook.

You can check out how your senators and representatives did.

“Some Republicans may howl about their score, but they’re not howling as much as the hungry kids, veterans, and seniors out there whose nutrition programs were cut. It’s a high-profile issue, and that’s why we’re bringing it to the forefront,” he says.

That is why Colicchio is using his star power to persuade eaters to take action.

"Voters should use the information in the food policy scorecard to vote with their forks," Colicchio tells TakePart. "They should elect leaders who are standing up for hungry families and healthier, safer, and more locally grown food. That's how we can change the way we eat and how food is grown."