Scores Don’t Tell the Whole Story
By Claire Benjamin
Food Policy Action was created last year to promote sensible food policies through education and the publication of its annual scorecard, which tracks how legislators vote on issues that affect all of us – ranging from the safety of our food to the treatment of farm animals.
This week, FPA released its 2013 National Food Policy Scorecard to help voters identify which lawmakers are working for better food policies. It turns out there are 87 good food champions in the 113th Congress – 14 senators and 73 representatives.
But, votes don’t always tell the whole story. Several lawmakers with less than perfect scores are among the most committed champions for reducing hunger, reforming wasteful farm subsidies, and supporting local farmers.
For example, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who received a score of 67 percent, has tirelessly fought to make food safer and better for us – introducing legislation to increase testing of ground beef and to improve communication with consumers during recalls. She has also championed better nutrition by leading efforts to ban the use of trans fat and to eliminate the sale of junk foods in schools. Gillibrand may be best known for her efforts to restore cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by offering an amendment to instead cut subsidies for insurance companies.
Another example is Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who has continued to fight for farm subsidy reform since moving from the House to the Senate. As a Senator, Flake has introduced bills and amendments to help family farmers by gradually reducing crop insurance subsidies and by fighting to end “direct” subsidy payments tied to past farm production.
And if it weren’t for the leadership of the Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., the farm bill being finalized by the House and Senate would be far worse. Stabenow received a score of 50 percent by FPA, but she has defended food assistance programs, fought hard to require good stewardship as a condition of receiving crop insurance subsidies, and worked towards making the “farm” bill a “food” bill by including new resources for local food. But, as the lawmaker responsible for writing this key legislation in the Senate, Stabenow had little choice but to defend the bipartisan bill, and vote against amendments offered by her colleagues.
These are just a few examples of great food policy leaders in Congress who must be measured by more than their voting records alone.
Its also important to mention some discrepancies between legislators voting records and co-sponsored bills. For example many legislators who voted against a Senate amendment to that would have permitted states to require labeling of genetically engineered foods are actually co-sponsors of legislation to make the absence of such a label illegal in every state. Why? Because some Senators would like to give all consumers the right to know what’s in their food — not just consumers in states that pass their own bills. The other part of the answer has to do with Congress not taking enough votes on important food policy, which we will explore more in the coming months, stay tuned.