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Arizona lawmakers get low marks for votes on food-policy issues

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WASHINGTON – Arizona lawmakers fared poorly Wednesday on a new national scorecard that ranked all 535 members of the current Congress for their votes on a range of food and farm issues.

Seven of Arizona’s 10 members of Congress – all Republicans – failed to score higher than 40 out of 100 for votes on issues including food safety, farm subsidies, food labeling, hunger, organic food and local food systems, among others.

Nationally, the average score for senators was 58 and for House members was 57 on the scorecard by Food Policy Action.

“We think a little bit of transparency will help members think twice before they decide to put the interests of hungry kids behind the interests of others,” said Scott Faber, vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, the driving force behind Food Policy Action.

Faber and others conceded that the National Food Policy Scorecard – the first-ever such ranking – does not capture all the “nuance” of congressional policy decisions.

He cited Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Mesa, who scored just 29 on the scorecard – just ahead of Sen. John McCain’s 28 and tied with Rep. Trent Franks, R-Glendale, for lowest in the Arizona delegation.

“Jeff Flake received a relatively low score but he has been a champion on (agriculture) subsidy reforms in the 112th and previous Congresses,” Faber said.

David DeGennaro, a policy analyst with the group, said that despite his low score, Flake “has been a leader on certain things,” such as efforts to limit the amount of ethanol allowed in gasoline.

“On other votes, like nutrition spending for instance, he votes the wrong way on that” resulting in the relatively low score, DeGennaro said.

Attempts to get reaction to the report Wednesday from members of the Arizona delegation were not successful.

Food Policy Action is a coalition of 12 groups that scored lawmakers on 32 floor votes, 18 in the Senate and 14 in the House. The coalition also looked at two other House votes and one other Senate vote but did not figure them in the scoring.

Ken Cook, founding board president of Food Policy Action, said no one has been keeping tabs on members of Congress and how they vote on food policy. It is time to hold them accountable, he said.

“People need to know how Congress is doing on food,” Cook said.

The scorecard showed a sharp partisan divide, both nationally and in Arizona, with Democrats outscoring Republicans. Despite that, the group said it is important to note that many Republicans got higher-than-average scores.

Chef Tom Colicchio, one of the creators of the scorecard, said this is not about partisanship.

“Hunger should not be a partisan issue,” Colicchio said at Wednesday’s Washington event to release the report. “This should get us together to do the right thing.”

Brian Simpson, spokesman for the Association of Arizona Food Banks, said Wednesday he is pleased that someone is focusing on food policy and he hopes it spurs a larger discussion. But he is hesitant to think it will have an effect on Congress.

“I doubt it will move them enough to change the way they vote,” Simpson said.