November 01, 2010

Delegation: Keep Potatoes in Nutrition Programs

Letter to Ag Secretary notes WIC staff supports including potatoes

Washington, D.C. - Idaho's Congressional Delegation is asking the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to reverse course and stop a recommendation to remove fresh white potatoes from the USDA's Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program. Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, and Representatives Mike Simpson and Walt Minnick, note 9.3 million program participants and 32 million school children receive food and meals under dietary guidelines directed by USDA, and plans to end the availability of potatoes under the WIC nutrition program rob participants of an affordable and nutritious vegetable. The USDA says it is rewriting program guidelines in an effort to include more fresh fruits and vegetables.

"Unfortunately, fresh white potatoes have been the only vegetable excluded from the list of program eligible fruits and vegetables through this process, despite the crop's nutritional value," the Delegation wrote in a letter to Secretary Thomas Vilsack. "We are disappointed with this exclusion, and ask that USDA amend its proposal to include this vegetable on this list."

Idaho is the nation's leader in producing fresh white potatoes, and the Delegation says not only will Idaho growers be hurt by the decision, but also low-income and nutritionally at-risk pregnant women. "For example, one medium-size baked potato contains more potassium than a banana, and more vitamin C than a tomato, both of which are included on the list," the Delegation wrote. "We are concerned that USDA has taken an unnecessary step in removing this low-cost, nutritional vegetable from the program - a move that disadvantages not only participants, but all those involved in providing healthy produce to the WIC program."

The Delegation noted USDA managers may want to consult their staff about the potatoes' exclusion. "As you may know, WIC program managers and staff across the country have expressed support for adding fresh white potatoes to the program, recognizing fresh potatoes as both a nutritional and economic option."

The USDA is expected to issue a final rule on the WIC program next February.