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New Congressional Scorecard Grades Lawmakers on Food Policy Votes

If you follow politics, you may have noticed there are loads of scorecards that grade politicians. Each special interest seems to have at least one such report card. Environmentalists, for example, have the League of Conservation Voters, gun rights advocates have the National Rife Association and concerned taxpayers have the National Taxpayers Union. Each group dutifully creates its own rubric and doles out scores to lawmakers for their voting records.

Now the food movement has joined the ratings ranks with a new National Food Policy Scorecard that looks at a wide range of food system issues, including food safety, hunger, farm subsidies, farm worker rights and humane animal treatment.

The new rating system was launched on Wednesday in Washington, DC by Food Policy Action, a newly formed 501(c)(4), born out of the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy group known for its farm subsidy database and its annual “Dirty Dozen” produce pesticide ranking. The board backing the group includes Tom Colicchio of Top Chef, Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Farm, Robin Schepper, the former Executive Director of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign, and others from the Humane Society of the United States, Oxfam America, United Food and Commercial Workers and the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The scorecard looked at 32 key food policy votes in the 112th Congress, 14 in the House and 18 in the Senate. Lawmakers were awarded points for voting for measures to reduce or eliminate federal subsidies paid to wealthy farmers, boost E. coli prevention funding, or repeal ethanol subsidies, but lost points for voting to reduce food assistance or weaken pesticide regulations.

On the whole, the top performers were Democrats. All 50 lawmakers with perfect scores were Democrats (plus independent Sen. Joe Lieberman). The worst performers were Republicans; all 48 lawmakers with scores below 20 are Rs. But the group doing the scoring insists that its rankings are non-partisan and objective. Three house members, all Republicans, received scores of zero, but several Republicans in both chambers scored far better than some Democrats. Sens. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Scott Brown (R-MA) are tied at 78, while Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) beats Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND), 72 to 67.

“Food is a more bipartisan issue than you might you might think,” said Scott Faber, vice president of the Environmental Working Group. “Some Republicans scored well and some Democrats scored poorly… maybe they’ll look at this and stop voting along partisan lines.”

“I don’t think this is about politics; this is about values,” celebrity chef Tom Colicchio told reporters at the Food Policy Action launch, noting that the scorecard rewarded lawmakers who stand up for values like ending childhood hunger or protecting the environment, which are shared by many Americans.

Food Policy Action says its mission is to “highlight the importance of food policy and to promote policies that support healthy diets, reduce hunger at home and abroad, improve food access & affordability, uphold the rights & dignity of food and farm workers, increase transparency, improve public health, reduce the risk of food-borne illness, support local and regional food systems, treat farm animals humanely and reduce the environmental impact of farming and food production.”

The scorecard aims to provide “objective, factual information” about congressional food policy votes, but the individuals serving on the group’s board are tied to several food policy groups that are not known for being particularly objective, bipartisan or independent.

As veteran agriculture journalist Jerry Hagstrom reported in the Hagstrom Report (subscription only), “Food Policy Action’s board consists of leaders of 12 groups, all of which would be considered on the left of the political spectrum, even if their leaders claim to represent bipartisan, policy-oriented organizations.”

Jeff Stier, a senior fellow at the conservative National Center for Public Policy Research called the new scorecard “a litmus test for a liberal approach to food policy issues.”

“While they are right to oppose farm subsidies, these rankings only grade members of congress based on how often they agree with the rankers’ already too partisan approach to food issues,” said Stier.

It’s not clear how widely the scorecard will be used. As of late Wednesday, only a couple of local media outlets had reported on their local politicians’ performance, but a handful of lawmakers have already touted their own scores on Twitter. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said he was “proud to get a 100% score on hunger and nutrition issues.” Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) and Betty McCollum (D-MN), also commented on their high scores.

See Food Policy Action for the full scorecard which can be searched by zip code, state, or ranking.

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