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Senators Fight to Keep Potatoes in Nutrition Programs

New USDA rule would cut potatoes, cost school districts

Washington, D.C.  - Idaho Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch are deeply concerned about new guidelines from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that would drastically reduce the use of potatoes in school lunches.  The Idaho Senators are joining Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mark Udall (D-Colorado) to introduce an amendment to the Senate Agriculture Appropriations bill to prevent the USDA from requiring schools to cut the amount of potatoes served in school meals.  This proposed rule would cost the federal government $6.8 billion over five years while discriminating against a vegetable with more potassium than a banana.

Earlier this year, the USDA proposed a rule that would limit the servings of starchy vegetables, including white potatoes, to a total of one cup per week in the National School Lunch Program.  That rule would also ban starchy vegetables from the School Breakfast Program. These new regulations directly contradict the recommendations of the recently-published 2010 Dietary Guidelines, which encourage children to consume "nutrients of concern," two of which are potassium and fiber.  As such,the senators' amendment would require USDA to strike its proposed federal nutrition standard in school meals and develop a more cost effective rule.

"With our current fiscal challenges, this rule simply does not make sense," Crapo said.  "For less than 5 cents per potato, school meal programs can meet nutrition requirements on several fronts.  With only 110 calories, a potato contains more potassium than an equivalent sized banana and more fiber than a serving of broccoli.  It is our responsibility to provide flexibility to schools so that they can meet the nutrition goals set by the USDA while maintaining participation rates in the school lunch and breakfast programs."

"Setting limits on the number of times any vegetable can be served doesn't make sense, especially when that vegetable meets a variety of nutritional standards at a fraction of the cost," said Risch.  "Local school districts have prepared plenty of nutritious meals for students over the years.  They have budget constraints to deal with and don't need the federal government telling them which foods to serve so long as they meet the standards of a healthy diet."

The senators are also sending a letter to their senate counterparts expressing serious concern for the significant costs that school districts will incur if they are unable to utilize potatoes in school meals.  These rules will increase the costs of school meals, reduce local flexibility, make it more difficult to deliver nutrients of concern for school age children and significantly reduce access to vegetables that are popular with kids. 

The amendment could be up for a vote as early as this week.  Similar language was inserted to the House Agriculture Appropriations bill by Congressman Mike Simpson, which would essentially bar USDA from implementing the new rule.