MAKING THE GRADE
Scorecard ranks state legislators’ votes on food and farming bills.
WRITTEN BY PAUL TOWERS
ILLUSTRATION BY LUCY ENGELMAN
In any given year, the California legislature takes up a wide range of issues that affect what ends up on our plates and how it’s grown. And this past year was no different. From bills that create better labeling to reduce food waste, to better protections for farmworkers against workplace raids, to enhanced school meals for low-income children, the list of policies addressed was long and broad.
Given the seriousness of the legislation, advocates say elected officials must be held accountable for how they vote. For only the second year, legislators — including those from Sacramento — were scored on their votes on these critical issues. The 2017 California Food and Agriculture Legislator Scorecard and its companion 2017 California Food and Agriculture Legislation Tracker indicate that nearly half of all legislators cast perfect voting records in support of positive food policy changes.
Three of 10 members representing at least part of Sacramento County earned 100 percent on the scorecard: Sen. Bill Dodd (D – Napa), Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D – Sacramento), and Sen. Richard Pan (D – Sacramento).
“I am happy to support legislation that gives people access to nutritious food and easy-to-read labels and reduces food waste,” McCarty says. “It also is crucial for me to promote safe working conditions for our farmers and environmentally friendly methods of agriculture.”
One piece of legislation tracked and scored in the report, and which was driven by several organizations in the Sacramento region, was the Farmer Equity Act (Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D – Winters). The bill gives farmers of color, including immigrant and refugee farmers, greater access to state and federal resources in the face of historic discrimination.
The scorecard and tracker were assembled and released by the California Food & Farming Network, California Food Policy Council, and Roots of Change, representing 39 different organizations spanning the state. Of the 20 priority bills tracked this year by the alliance, Gov. Jerry Brown signed 12 of the 13 that reached his desk.
Promoting an A+ food system
Despite the fact that several important policies were taken up, some of the groups in the alliance charge that the legislature is still unwilling to advance more transformational changes in food and farming, citing continued barriers to farming, access to local and fresh produce, fair working conditions, and methods for curbing high rates of both obesity and food insecurity.
“California legislators took a stand for fairness and justice in the food and farming system. And it’s still not enough given the challenges the state and country face. We hope Sacramento area legislators can continue to lead the way,” says Brenda Ruiz, a chef and president of the Sacramento Food Policy Council, one of the groups participating in the tracker and scorecard.
Ruiz points to the unwillingness of the legislature to advance a longstanding request for a fee on sugary beverages, to address funding for programs such as the Healthy Soils Initiative to a June ballot initiative, and to discuss critical issues in agriculture and health committees as symptoms of the inability to advance more transformative change.
The alliance groups already are gearing up for 2018, with another slew of food and farming bills being introduced and considered throughout the remainder of this year.
Lawmakers’ Food and Farming Policy Votes By the Numbers
Sacramento County Assemblymembers
Ken Cooley – 87%
Jim Cooper – 87%
Jim Frazier – 87%
Kevin Kiley – 47%
Kevin McCarty – 100%
Sacramento County Senators
Tom Berryhill – 64%
Bill Dodd – 100%
Ted Gaines – 64%
Jim Nielsen – 50%
Richard Pan – 100%
Paul Towers is a frequent contributor to GroundTruth, a leader of the Sacramento Food Policy Council, and the organizing director and policy advocate at Pesticide Action Network, and he enjoys cooking food from his garden with his children.