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Mothers Deserve Freedom To Choose Whether to Buy Potatoes

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo and Jim Risch

Those who argue that the Administration is right in excluding white potatoes as a nutritional option in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program are essentially saying that mothers utilizing WIC should not be able to choose whether to purchase white potatoes, despite their nutritional benefits.  It is like they claim to know better than we do what is good for us, regardless of nutritional facts to the contrary.  Nobody is forcing mothers to buy potatoes, but it should be their choice.  Mothers who are the recipients of WIC vouchers should be able to decide whether fresh white potatoes meet their nutritional needs. 

WIC managers and staff across the country support including fresh white potatoes as an option in the WIC program, and we have been working to allow them as an option in WIC for quite some time because their nutritional benefits contradict their exclusion from WIC.  This affordable option provides many nutritional benefits.  With only 110 calories, a potato contains more potassium than an equivalent sized banana, more vitamin C than a tomato and more fiber than a serving of broccoli. 

As we point out in a recent bipartisan letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, we agree that the WIC food package should reflect the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA).  The 2010 DGA recommends that people increase their consumption of a category of vegetables that includes fresh white potatoes, and the DGA recommends that individuals choose foods that provide more potassium and dietary fiber-fresh white potatoes contain both.  We wrote, "Potatoes are a cholesterol-free, fat-free and sodium-free food.  A 110-calorie medium baked potato contains 15 percent of the recommended daily value of dietary fiber, 27 percent of the recommended daily value for vitamin B6 and 28 percent of the recommended daily value of Vitamin C . . ."

Further, excluding white potatoes from WIC is inconsistent with other federal nutritional policy.  Right now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) allows WIC mothers to use WIC vouchers to purchase white potatoes through the WIC Farmers' Market Nutrition Program.  However, they cannot purchase the exact same bag of potatoes at grocery stores using the WIC program.  This doesn't make nutritional or economic sense.

We worked with a bipartisan group in Congress to enact law thatwas accompanied by a clear statement that it is the expectation of Congress that the USDA include all varieties of fresh vegetables, as long as they do not contain added sugars, fats, or oils, in WIC.  The language clearly states that Congress expects the inclusion of all varieties of vegetables as long as the inclusion of those vegetables contributes to the special nutritional needs of those who receive program benefits and increases the availability of low-cost, high-nutrient alternatives for them. 

However, USDA disregarded this action by Congress and continues to exclude fresh white potatoes from WIC food packages.  This calls into question whether this action is politically motivated.  Therefore, we have supported the recent U.S. Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee's adoption of an amendment to end the unnecessary exclusion of the nutrient-packed fresh white potato in the WIC program. 

Fruits and vegetables are eligible for purchase under the program with one exception: fresh white potatoes.  Despite its affordability and immense nutritional benefits, the white potato continues to be the only vegetable unfairly excluded.  The Administration and Congress need to rectify this wrong and ensure white potatoes are included as a nutritional option for mothers in the WIC program. 

You may access Senator Crapo's and Senator Risch's websites through the following links:  http://crapo.senate.govand

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