Congress Isn’t Delivering the Progressive Food Policy Americans Want

Even as substantial majorities of voters say they want an overhauled progressive food system, lawmakers remain stuck in the status quo.

Schoolkids ask chef Bill Telepan (left) and Food Policy Action cofounders Ken Cook (right) and chef Tom Colicchio (not pictured) questions at the 2015 Food Scorecard release at Campos Community Garden in New York City on Nov. 17. (Photo: Facebook)

Nov 18, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Jason Best is a regular contributor to TakePart who has worked for Gourmet and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

It probably comes as no surprise that we aren’t on the cusp of overhauling our dysfunctional food system and moving toward something more progressive and sustainable. But what’s galling is just how far behind much of the rest of the population members of Congress appear to be lagging.

Even as more Americans than ever have become more conscious not only of what they eat but of the social and environmental implications of the food supply, Congress as a whole remains stubbornly resistant to upending the status quo.

“We the people”? Yeah, right.

That’s essentially the takeaway from recent work by Food Policy Action, a nonprofit that advocates for a more equitable and sustainable food system. About a month ago, FPA released the results of a survey of 1,000 registered voters, and were these Americans responsible for adopting legislation to reform our food system, well, we might actually see some progress. In contrast, on Monday the FPA released its annual scorecard ranking how members of Congress voted this year on key food-related legislation, and it paints a decidedly gloomier picture.

Although, according to the survey, 81 percent of Americans say they are very concerned that one-third of children today will likely develop type-2 diabetes, Congress this year failed to pass a number of bills aimed at securing healthier and more affordable meals for kids. Likewise, some 75 percent of Americans say they are either very concerned or somewhat concerned that five of the eight worst-paying jobs in America are in the food industry, yet Congress has generally allowed to languish proposals that would raise the federal minimum wage or guarantee workers a minimum number of paid sick days.

And while separate polling shows that a significant majority of Americans—upwards of 90 percent—want to see mandatory labels for foods that contain genetically modified ingredients, the House this year overwhelmingly passed a bill that would essentially do just the opposite, establishing a voluntary GMO labeling program while simultaneously outlawing state efforts to require such labeling. The bill, which critics call the Denying Americans the Right to Know, or DARK Act, has yet to be taken up in the Senate.

All in all, the advocacy group says that the average score for members of Congress this year in terms of supporting more progressive food policies inched up by four points and—good news—an impressive 213 members of the House and 78 senators saw their grades improve. (Want to see how your own lawmakers did? Click here.)

But the picture wasn’t as great for new members of Congress. Freshman members of the House scored an average 10 points lower than the full chamber, while the deficit was 20 percent for new senators.

“The National Food Policy Scorecard continues to shine a light on what Congress is doing and, far too often, not doing to improve the nation’s food system,” Tom Colicchio, star chef and FPA cofounder, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, to date this Congress has failed to bring bills forward that would work to fix our broken food system and ensure that all Americans have equal access to healthy, affordable food.”