September 12, 2011

The Potato: An Affordable, Nutritional Treasure

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

When you consider its ability to grow even in poor soils, its affordability, storability, quantity of vital nutrients and its suitability as an abundant food energy source on limited land, it is no wonder the potato has been a staple food source for thousands of years.  The potato has also been characterized as a "hidden treasure" by the Food and Agricultural Organization for its vital role in providing food security and eradicating poverty. 

Responsible for 30 percent of our nation's potato production and valued at more than $784 million, Idaho potato production's importance to our economy is well-known.  The potato is also grown all over the world, and has a long history of sustaining world populations.  It originated in Peru, where it was utilized by the Incas as a food source.  The potato was later taken to Europe via Spain by returning sailors and became an affordable food.  It fueled workers in the Industrial Revolution and rural populations in Ireland and other areas.  The potato is also grown and consumed throughout Africa and Asia.    

Despite the internationally-recognized nutritional significance of the potato, the Obama Administration has taken undue steps to restrict its use in nourishing American children, and the media has jumped on the bandwagon.  On January 13, 2011, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) published its proposed rule updating nutrition standards in school lunches and breakfasts.  The rule adds more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fat-free or low-fat milk to school menus and limits the amount of "starchy vegetables" that may be served to one cup per week.  This would include potatoes, corn, green peas and lima beans. 

It makes little sense for the USDA to restrict vegetables, such as potatoes, that we know are nutritious and children will eat.  With only 110 calories, a potato contains more potassium than an equivalent sized banana and more fiber than a serving of broccoli.  In addition to being nutrient-dense, potatoes are a cost-effective use of school meal program dollars.  For less than five cents per potato, school meal programs can meet nutrition requirements on several fronts.  Additionally, with our nation's current fiscal challenges, the rule is far from cost effective.  The USDA's own estimates indicate that the cost to schools will increase by $6.8 billion over five years.  The USDA should not be removing a healthful, affordable source of nutrients from school lunches.  That is why I have joined my colleagues in expressing strong opposition to this proposed rule. 

In his book titled, "The Potato:  How the Humble Spud Rescued the Western World," author Larry Zuckerman, notes that one acre's worth of potatoes provides more than ten people with their annual energy and protein needs.  The potato is truly an efficient, nutritional treasure.  Families and local school districts are far better equipped than a federal bureaucracy to decide whether potatoes are the right choice for students, and the potato should remain an option for American families.    

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