- Food Policy Action, a nonpartisan group dedicated to educating the public about which leaders are making decisions that are good for the national food system, released its sixth annual scorecard ranking members of Congress on food and regulatory policy.
- There were relatively few votes and policies to evaluate members of Congress on this year — one vote and 10 bills in the Senate and five votes and 11 bills in the House of Representatives. During a conference call introducing the scorecard on Wednesday, Food Policy Action leaders said this may be a result of a new administration taking office this year, which can slow down normal legislative progress.
- On the scorecard, 130 members of Congress — 80 in the House and 50 in the Senate — received scores of zero. On the flip side, 220 members —140 in the House and 40 in the Senate — received scores of 100.
Food Policy Action's goal in these annual scorecards is to inform consumers of the choices their elected representatives are making that truly touch their everyday lives, Ken Cook, co-founder of the group, board chairman and president of the Environmental Working Group, told reporters in a Wednesday conference call. It is also intended to incentivize members of the House and Senate to introduce bills that will contribute to good food policy for consumers.
Celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, one of the group's co-founders, said that food and policy go hand-in-hand.
"The fact is that everything that crosses our table touches policy and is in fact political," he said on the conference call.
Because food policy hasn't been a priority agenda item for Congress or the Trump administration, the votes that went into this year's score were broadly focused. Two pieces of legislation that focused on cutting government regulations — the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act and the Regulatory Accountability Act — were considered for both chambers.
For senators, the scorecard looks at their votes for the confirmation of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt. Even though the EPA has little direct impact on food policy, Food Policy Action Executive Director Monica Mills said during the call that Pruitt was considered because of his history of challenging the agency he now heads. Votes on the confirmation of U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who does much more with food policy, were not considered because Perdue's policy approach is more middle-of-the-road and conventional.
It can be argued that this year's scorecard is less useful than past years. After all, 41% of all members of Congress have perfect scores, while 24% earned scores of zero. However, Cook and Collicchio put a different spin on the relatively low number of votes. Instead of the scorecard making it difficult to really determine who's on the side of good food policy, it shows that Washington is falling short and not working on these issues to make things better for all consumers.
“These scores are extreme because this is where Congress stands in such a turbulent political environment with a frustrating lack of bipartisanship on food policy votes,” Cook said in a written statement. “Food policy is not a partisan issue. Congress should prioritize a more balanced, healthy and sustainable food system. With this year’s report showing great room for improvement, I hope that Congress will do more next year than this year. In 2018, voters need a clearer sense of where their legislators stand on issues that affect the food system. We must all communicate with our legislators about the scorecard and let them know that we want good food policies prioritized in 2018.”
Whether food policy will become a priority — or something largely ignored by a Congress that is concentrating on President Trump's agenda — remains to be seen. And as the last 10 months have shown, nowadays it is difficult to predict what will happen next in Washington.