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The issue of scoring members of Congress

Scoring senators and House members on their votes is a common practice in Washington that is more an art than a science, but nevertheless has become a shorthand way for voters and particularly for activists to decide what to think about a politician.

The Food Policy Action board has issued composite scores on members based on a series of votes on food, agriculture and ethanol policy that it’s safe to say no one has ever considered together before.

Whether this Food Policy Scoreboard becomes influential may depend on whether it gains a popular following and whether foundations and other groups become interested in providing the money to sustain it.

Unlike most other scoreboards, the Food Policy Scoreboard is, in essence, issued by a coalition rather than a single group. And while the Food Policy Action board hopes that a low score will embarrass members, some politicians from agricultural districts may consider a low score that comes from an organization so closely associated with the Environmental Working Group’s farm subsidy database to be a badge of honor.

As the Food Policy Action center noted in a news release today:

“Among the votes included in the score calculations were proposals to cut nutrition assistance, increase food safety funding, repeal conservation programs, allow states to label genetically engineered food and subject crop insurance subsidies to means testing and payment limits. The scorecard will continue to track votes on a wide range of food policy issues, including food and farm worker protections, increased food access and affordability, food additives, animal welfare, and the environmental impact of farm and food production.”

Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook noted today that the board would have liked to score members on votes on humane treatment of animals, marine stewardship and drinking water, but no votes on those issues occurred in this Congress.

In the future, the advisory council and the board will be looking for a broader range of votes to score and will inform members in advance that certain votes may be scored, EWG Vice President Scott Faber said. Chef Tom Colicchio, a member of the board, also noted that the votes did not include any on obesity or the overall school lunch program, but that the group is interested in those issues as well.

The scoreboard listed votes on broad budget and regulatory policies included in the House budget proposed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who is now the Republican candidate for vice president, as “dishonorable mentions,” but did not include those in the scoreboard, Faber added.

Senators appeared to be at a disadvantage in the rankings because the Senate voted on the farm bill and on a series of amendments while the House did not bring the farm bill to the floor and therefore did not vote on a series of controversial issues.