Policies affecting food and agriculture get slipped into bills all the time, and it’s next to impossible for the average American consumer to keep up with them all. Last week the Senate passed—and the President signed into law—a new budget that included a controversial rider protecting GMO companies like Monsanto. And Congressional Republicans are pushing for a gutting of important hunger-fighting nutritional programs like SNAP and WIC.
What if there was a place where we could see how our representatives in Washington are voting on the bills that affect what we, and our poorest neighbors, are eating?
There is now, thanks to an organization called Food Policy Action, which launched last October—on Food Day, appropriately.
“It was not one single event that lead to the formation of Food Policy Action, but rather the lack of accountability year after year from members of Congress on food and farming votes,” Ken Cook, founding board president of FPA and president of the Environmental Working Group, tells TakePart. “Whether it be billions in subsidies to highly profitable agribusinesses and mega corn farms or cutting conservation and critical hunger programs, no one was holding Congress accountable for their votes.”
Food Policy Action is doing so using a National Food Policy Scorecard it developed—the first legislative scorecard dealing specifically with food. Last year, the FPA board selected 32 floor votes—18 in the Senate, 14 in the House—taken by Congress over the past two years that affected food safety, hunger, farm subsidies, food labeling, organic farming, and local food systems. Each lawmaker was then rated on how he or she voted in each case.
At the moment, the gutting of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which helps one in seven food-insecure Americans, is a hot topic for Food Policy Action. Congressional Republicans want to cut $135 billion from SNAP over the next decade, which could eliminate up to 13 million people from the program by making income eligibility even more restrictive. Opponents of such drastic measures say they would harm hard-working Americans.
“We can’t cut programs that help fight the neediest among us—especially children—when many families are still struggling with the lasting impact of the recession,” Cook says.
Food Policy Action is bringing together an all-star team of “real food” organizations and food industry leaders to back its mission and sit on its board. Top Chef star and owner of Craft Restaurants, Tom Colicchio, for instance, is a founding board member and the celebrity face of Food Policy Action. (Colicchio also stars in and produced the new film from Participant Media, A Place at the Table, which highlights the problem of hunger in America.)
Joining Colicchio and Cook on Food Policy Action’s board of directors are:
Ray Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America Robin Schepper, former executive director of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World Gary Hirshberg, cofounder and chairman of Stonyfield Farm Wayne Pacelle, chief executive officer and president of the Humane Society of the United States Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest Dave Murphy, founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now! Mia Dell, chief lobbyist for United Food and Commercial Workers Navina Khanna, cofounder of Live Real John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association
With the arrival of Food Policy Action, Cook says politicians are being “put on notice” that votes protecting the status quo will no longer cut it.
“Americans are clamoring for a better food and farm system that provides healthy, abundant food while protecting the environment and farm workers and ensures the ethical treatment of animals,” he says.
How do your representatives in Washington, D.C. rank on food policy? Find out!
Related stories on TakePart:
Steve’s story about healthy fast food was anthologized in Best Food Writing 2011. His food and general interest stories regularly appear in Edible Boston, Boston Magazine, The Boston Globe, and other places. Email Steve | @thebostonwriter