Food policy advocates rate lawmakers

Vera Bergengruen

Advocacy groups from the National Rifle Association to Americans for the Arts have long used annual legislative scorecards to rate members of Congress, so why not score them on how they vote on food policy?

On Tuesday, the nonprofit group Food Policy Action released its second annual scorecard and announced 87 “Good Food Champions” who, out of the 535 members of Congress, received a perfect score.

The 14 senators and 73 representatives were awarded 100 percent scores based on their voting record on food-related policy issues such as global food aid, food stamps, farm subsidy reform, safety standards, the use of antibiotics and food labeling.

Celebrity chef and “Top Chef” head judge Tom Colicchio, a board member of the group, said he wants voters to go to the ballot box informed about lawmakers’ record on issues involving food and nutrition.

“I’m not just speaking as a chef, I’m speaking as a father,” he said at a press conference announcing the 2013 scorecard. “Until now, voters had no simple way to find out whether their lawmakers voted to cut or protect food assistance for the neediest Americans.”

The press conference was at Graffiato, a restaurant in downtown Washington owned by Mike Isabella, a former “Top Chef” contestant.

In September, Colicchio and others joined House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other lawmakers in condemning a House Republican plan to cut $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the food stamp program. The votes earlier this year on the farm bill, of which the food stamp program is part, heavily influenced how the group scored members of Congress.

House of Representatives Republicans who supported the proposed $40 billion in cuts said the program had grown too big and unmanageable. They said that the proposed cuts reduced loopholes, changed eligibility rules and made the program more financially responsible.

Ken Cook, board chairman of Food Policy Action and president of the Environmental Working Group, a research and policy organization that has links to the food group, said the scores should be used as a tool to hold legislators accountable.

“We’re hoping that members of Congress will get the message that these votes matter,” he said. “The scores shouldn’t be used as a way to knock people over the head, but to get them to pay attention.”

Food Policy Action's scorecard on "Good Food Champions" in Congress
By Vera Bergengruen
McClatchy Washington Bureau