by Marion Nestle

Search results: food policy action

Nov 16 2017

Food Policy Action’s 2017 Scorecard on Congressional Votes

Food Policy Action has released its annual scorecard, evaluating how our federal legislators vote on food issues.  In case you haven’t noticed, they aren’t voting on much these days so there wasn’t much to score.

In the Senate, there was only one vote (on the nomination of Scott Pruitt as USDA Secretary), although ten bills were introduced.

In the House, there were five votes and 11 bills.

Overall scores averaged 49%—dismal.

The site has a handy interactive map; click on it to see how your legislators are voting.

In case you want to see just how badly Congress is doing, I’ve been posting these scorecards since they started:

One thought: maybe it’s just as well.

Nov 3 2016

Food Policy Action’s 2016 Congressional Scorecard

This year, only three Senators—Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Richard Durbin—got top scores from Food Policy Action for their votes on food and farm issues.  This is down from the 29 who earned perfect scores in 2015.

In the House, 79 representatives got perfect scores as opposed to 87 in 2015.

The annual Scorecard ranks lawmakers on whether they support legislation on issues such as GMO labeling, hunger, fisheries management, food waste, pesticides, the EPA’s waters of the U.S. rule, among others.

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It’s disappointing that fewer legislators are getting top scores, since one of the purposes of this activity is to hold them accountable and encourage more liberal voting on food and farm issues.

 

 

Nov 18 2015

Food Policy Action releases 2015 Congressional scorecard

I went yesterday to the press conference for the release of the Food Policy Action 2015 Scorecard.

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This was outdoors at Campos Community Garden in Manhattan’s East Village, attended by classes of schoolkids.  The speakers:

Food Policy Action aims to improve national discussions of food policy issues by informing the public about how elected officials vote on these issues.  Hence: the Scorecard.

As I discussed last year, points are awarded for votes on bills introduced or co-sponsored that deal with:

  • Domestic and international hunger
  • Food safety
  • Food access
  • Farm subsidies
  • Animal welfare
  • Food and farm labor
  • Nutrition
  • Food additives
  • Food transparency
  • Local and regional food production
  • The environmental effects of food production

In the Senate, for example, there were just 5 bills to be voted on an 10 that were co-sponsored (but not voted on).  In the House, there were votes on 10 bills and 12 that were co-sponsored (no vote).  This leaves lots of room for improvement, even among the best.

The speakers explained to the kids that the Scorecard gave grades to members of Congress, just like they get, and took them through a discussion of thumbs up and thumbs down appraisals of legislators’ votes on key food issues.  Congress is doing a little better this year than last, they said, but still has a long way to go.

Those of us in New York are lucky.  Both of our Senators, Kirsten Gillbrand and Charles Schumer scored 100.

Here are my reports on the Scorecards from 2013 and 2014.  The Scorecard is a great first step in holding legislators accountable.

Oct 22 2014

Food Policy Action rates Congress on food issues

Food Policy Action announced the release of its second annual National Food Policy Scorecard last week, ranking members of the House and Senate on their votes on key food-related issues.

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Food Policy Action is unique among food advocacy organizations in its explicit use of the political process.  Its goal is to

promote policies that support healthy diets, reduce hunger at home and abroad, improve food access and affordability, uphold the rights and dignity of food and farm workers, increase transparency, improve public health, reduce the risk of food-borne illness, support local and regional food systems, protect and maintain sustainable fisheries, treat farm animals humanely and reduce the environmental impact of farming and food production.

How?  By holding legislators accountable for their foods on food and farming issues.  Hence: The Food Policy Scorecard.

I discussed the previous scorecard in December 2013.

On this round, Food Policy Action awarded scores of 100 to 71 members of Congress – 54 in the House of Representatives, 17 in the Senate.

It awarded scores of zero to 35 members.

The scores are given for votes on bills related to key food issues:

  • Hunger
  • Food aid
  • Food labeling
  • Farm subsidies
  • Sustainable farming

The website makes it easy to track your legislators’s votes.

I looked at Senators from New York.

  • Kirsten Gillbrand scores 85 (she lost points by voting against reducing federal insurance subsidies for rich farmers and against protecting states’ rights to require GMO labels)
  • Charles Schumer scores 100

This is a valuable tool for anyone who cares how politics works in America.  Let’s hope it encourages citizens to hold their representatives accountable and legislators to think twice before voting against consumer-friendly food and farming bills.

 

Dec 11 2013

Food Policy Action releases handy Congress “scorecard” on food issues

Washington is such a mess that you can’t tell the players without a scorecard, and this one is really useful.

Food Policy Action to the rescue.

Food Policy Action is a project of the Environmental Working Group.  Ken Cook of EWG is its chair.  Tom Colicchio is listed as the first board member.

The 2013 National Food Policy Scorecard ranks each member of the Senate and House on their votes on food issues.

The interactive map lets you click on a state and see how our congressional representatives are voting.  According to the scorecard, 87 members are Good Food Champions.  We need more!

I looked up New York.  Senator Charles Schumer gets a perfect 100%.  Yes!

But Senator Kirsten Gillibrand only gets 67%.

How come?  Click on her name and the site lists her votes on key legislation.  Oops.  She voted against GMO labeling and against a key farm bill amendment on crop insurance.  If you click on the button, you get to learn more about this vote and the legislation.

This kind of information is hard to come by.  Food Policy Action’s scorecard is easy to use and performs a terrific public service.

Thanks to everyone responsible for it.

Jan 24 2020

Weekend reading: Nature Food

It’s pretty exciting when a major international science journal starts a satellite journal devoted to food issues.  Welcome to Nature Food.

Volume 1 Issue 1Silos and systems: The image of a corn processing plant with storage silos represents an early stage of the food supply chain and entry point to a complex, increasingly globalized food system with broad health, economic, social and environmental interactions. The journey from silo to system starts here.

Here’s what’s in Volume 1, Issue 1, January 2020:  

  • Editorial: From silos to systems.  The global food system needs a radical overhaul to sustainably feed 10 billion people by 2050. Nature Food calls on scientists from the many disciplines of food to contribute their knowledge and experience to a collective dialogue on food system transformation.
  • Comment: Planet-proofing the global food system  Without a great food system transformation, the world will fail to deliver both on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement. There are five grand challenges to be faced, by science and society, to effect that transformation.  Johan Rockström et al.
  • Comment: A national approach for transformation of the UK food system: Transformation of the food system at the national scale requires concerted action from government, business and civil society, based on sound evidence from the research community. A programme for transformation of the United Kingdom’s food system, for healthy people and a healthy environment, is described here.  Riaz Bhunnoo  & Guy M. Poppy.
  • Comment:  A future workforce of food-system analysts:  A programme developed across five UK universities aims to equip graduate professionals with the skills, tools and capabilities to better understand and manage food-system complexity for food security, for the environment and for enterprise.  John Ingram, et al.
  • Q&A:  Where there is political will, there is a way.  Tom Arnold has a wealth of experience in humanitarian and development approaches to combatting hunger. In his roles in food and agriculture, including with Scaling Up Nutrition and Task Force Rural Africa, he advocates for policy consistency and supportive relationships between civil society, business and government.  Anne Mullen.
  • News & Views: Uncertainties in global crop modelling.  A consistent global gridded multi-model assessment of wheat production under climate change points to large uncertainties arising from crop models, particularly in mid and high latitudes.  Ann-Kristin Koehler
  • News & Views:  The changing nature of our food systems.  The wealth of national food supply data, collected over decades by member states of the Food and Agriculture Organization, provides intriguing insights into regional transitions.  Roseline Remans
  • News & Views:  Running AMOC in the farming economy.  Climate tipping points, such as the collapse of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), could drive significant structural changes in agriculture, with profound consequences for global food security.  Tim G. Benton
  • News & Views:  From stinkweed to oilseed.  Up to now, creativity, ingenuity, time and more than a little luck have been essential for transforming a wild plant into a new food crop. Building on the understanding of gene function in Arabidopsis, the process of domestication can be rapidly accelerated.  Anne B. Britt
  • News & Views: Mind the (supply) gap.  The gap between global supply and demand of omega-3 fatty acids is twice previous estimates. Opportunities to narrow that gap include increasing use of fishery by-products and reducing food waste.  Brett D. Glencross
  • Perspective:  Nitrogen pollution policy beyond the farm.  This Perspective builds on the concept of full-chain nitrogen use efficiency to propose policy interventions and criteria that target major actors in the agri-food chain.  David R. Kanter et al.
  • Perspective:  The unmapped chemical complexity of our diet.  Advances such as machine learning may enable the full biochemical spectrum of food to be studied systematically. Uncovering the ‘dark matter’ of nutrition could open new avenues for a greater understanding of the composition of what we eat and how it relates to health and disease.  Albert-László Barabási et al.
  • Review Article:  The nexus between international trade, food systems, malnutrition and climate change.  Trade agreements can constrain or enable governments’ ability to implement food system-level actions aimed at improving nutrition and mitigating climate change. The technical and political aspects of trade agreements that interact with food systems are reviewed here, and the coherence between trade policy goals and public interest goals, such as nutrition and climate change, is discussed.  Sharon Friel et al
  • Brief Communication:  Systems approach to quantify the global omega-3 fatty acid cycle.  Omega-3 fatty acids are important for the human diet and for some aqua and animal feeds. This study reports a supply gap, and using quantitative systems analysis identifies targets for increasing efficiency in the global omega-3 cycle.  Helen A. Hamilton et al.
  • Article:  Multidimensional characterization of global food supply from 1961 to 2013.  Food systems are increasingly globalized and interdependent. Using food supply data from over 170 countries, Bentham et al. characterize global patterns of food supply change over five decades, highlighting the decline in the supply of animal source food and sugar in many Western countries, the increase in the supply of such foods in Asian countries and remarkably little change in food supply in the sub-Saharan Africa region.  James Bentham et al.
  • Article: Shifts in national land use and food production in Great Britain after a climate tipping point.  Collapse of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) will impact agricultural land use and its economic value in Great Britain. Ritchie et al. model the impacts of smooth (conventional climate change) and abrupt (tipping point change) AMOC collapse on land use, arable farming and related economic outputs in Britain, as well as the economic feasibility of technological adaptations such as widespread irrigation. Paul D. L. Ritchie et al.
  • Article:  Identification and stacking of crucial traits required for the domestication of pennycress.  Thlaspi arvense (pennycress) has the potential to provide new sources of food and bioproducts when grown as a winter cover crop. Here, Chopra et al. demonstrate that multiple desirable traits can be stacked to rapidly domesticate pennycress. The resulting crop integrates into current crop rotations and produces seeds with improved nutritional qualities, easier harvesting and suitability for human consumption.  Ratan Chopra et al
  • Food for Thought:  The Londoner’s meal.  Globalization transforms societies, economies and cultures. As a subject, food allows us to draw unique narratives on these transformations . The history of pie and mash, also known as the ‘Londoner’s meal’, is such a story of globalization.  Ronald Ranta
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Jan 21 2020

The USDA never gives up in favoring corporate interests over kids’ health: the new school food rules

If it weren’t so tragic, we could all have a big laugh at the USDA’s latest announcement of how it plans to weaken the nutrition standards for school meals.   Here’s how it starts:

Delivering on his promise to act on feedback from dietary professionals, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced two proposals today that will put local school and summer food service operators back in the driver’s seat of their programs, because they know their children best. Under the school meals proposed rule, school nutrition professionals have more flexibility to serve appetizing and healthy meals that appeal to their students’ preferences and subsequently reduce food waste…These improvements build on the 2018 reforms that preserve strong nutrition standards while providing schools the additional flexibilities they need to best serve America’s students [the words in red are my emphasis].

This is USDA doublespeak.  My translation:

  • Dietary professionals: USDA is not talking about me here.  It is referring to the School Nutrition Association, which represents school food service workers, and receives nearly half its funding from food companies that sell products to schools.
  • Driver’s seat: This is Trump’s USDA saying that it is not bound by anything accomplished by Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign.
  • Flexibility: This means that schools can decide on their own to ignore nutrition standards and let kids eat all the junk food they want.
  • Improvements: This refers to benefits for the companies that sell junk foods in schools.
  • 2018 reforms:  In USDA-speak, “reform” usually means rollback of rules or budget cuts; it never means real improvement.

I just can’t get my head around why there is so much political pressure to feed junk food to kids.  Doesn’t everyone want kids to be healthy?  Apparently not.

Bettina Siegel, author of Kids’ Food and blogger at The Lunch Tray, has her own analytical deconstruction of what this announcement means.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest interprets USDA’s proposals as an “assault on school meals.”

In an email, a reader who wishes to remain anonymous sent me some notes on the large body of research, some of it from the agency itself, countering USDA’s claims that the current nutrition standards are not working.

  • USDA’s own research shows that meals are healthier, plate waste has not increased, and most schools are complying with nutrition standards.
  • Healthy Eating Research shows that the nutritional quality of school meals has improved under the current rules.
  • A study from the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity shows that low-income kids are eating better under the existing standards.
  • Surveys from Bridging the Gap show that most kids like the healthier school lunches.
  • poll conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, and American Heart Association shows that more than 70% of parents support healthier school nutrition standards, and more than 90% want fruits or vegetables served with every meal.
  • A Harvard study stimates that the current nutrition standards will prevent more than 2 million cases of childhood obesity and save nearly $800 million in health care costs over 10 years.

In short, school meals are not broken and do not need fixing.  This is about politics, in this case USDA’s pandering to food company interests at the expense of kids’ health.

Shameful.

Jan 7 2020

Food politics issues for 2020: Science, Immigration, Taxes

Let’s start the new year with three articles in the New York Times about policies that might not seem to but do bear directly on food politics.

Science Under Attack: How Trump Is Sidelining Researchers and Their Work

 “The disregard for expertise in the federal government is worse than it’s ever been,” said Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, which has tracked more than 200 reports of Trump administration efforts to restrict or misuse science since 2017. “It’s pervasive.”

At the USDA,

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced in June he would relocate two key research agencies to Kansas City from Washington: The National Institute of Food and Agriculture, a scientific agency that funds university research on topics like how to breed cattle and corn that can better tolerate drought conditions, and the Economic Research Service, whose economists produce studies for policymakers on farming trends, trade and rural America.  Nearly 600 employees had less than four months to decide whether to uproot and move. Most couldn’t or wouldn’t, and two-thirds of those facing transfer left their jobs.

The reaction?  In August, Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, appeared to celebrate the departures.

“It’s nearly impossible to fire a federal worker,” he said in videotaped remarks at a Republican Party gala in South Carolina…”What a wonderful way to sort of streamline government and do what we haven’t been able to do for a long time.”

After ICE Raids, a Reckoning in Mississippi’s Chicken Country

The sweeping immigration raids on seven chicken plants in central Mississippi forced hundreds of Latino workers out and opened up jobs for African-Americans.  The article quotes one saying “it felt good to be earning $11.23 an hour, even if the new job entailed cutting off necks and pulling out guts on a seemingly endless conveyor of carcasses.”

How Big Companies Won New Tax Breaks From the Trump Administration

But big companies wanted more…The tax bills of many big companies have ended up even smaller than what was anticipated when the president signed the bill.

The article cites three beverage and food companies—Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola and Kraft Heinz—as among those participating in the lobbying blitz.

Such companies also deployed elaborate techniques that let the companies pay taxes at far less than the 35 percent corporate tax rate.”

Comment

Food politics is a full employment act.  We have plenty of work to do this year to create a healthier, more just, and more sustainable food system.