Congress Puts Potatoes On The Menu In Nutrition Subsidy

Dec 16, 2014

Credit Idaho Potato Commission

Northwest potato farmers are cheering a small provision tucked into the newly passed federal spending package.

The Women, Infants and Children or WIC program provides modest monthly vouchers for a variety of foods. They’ll cover any vegetable -- except “white potatoes.”

That single exclusion outraged the potato industry. They felt it sent the wrong message and Northwest lawmakers from both parties got on board to reverse the rule.

But Dr. Ben Hoffman of the Oregon Pediatric Society insisted that the point was never to keep pregnant women and small children from eating potatoes.

“With WIC there’s a limited amount of money to provide the maximum amount of nutrition,”he explained.

He said WIC is a supplemental program and french fries already represent about a quarter of children’s vegetable consumption. Hoffman added that the move in Congress is a worrisome political intrusion into what should be a science-based process.

The USDA excluded potatoes from WIC on the recommendation of nutrition and medical experts at the Institute of Medicine.

The head of the Idaho Potato Commission called it a “wonderful day” for families, who can now use WIC vouchers to buy a vegetable children “actually enjoy eating.” With average annual spud consumption at 50 pounds per person, potatoes are America’s favorite vegetable.

And Adam Drewnowski, director of the Center for Public Health Nutrition at the University of Washington, said that’s not necessarily a bad thing. He said potatoes are an inexpensive source of potassium, vitamin C and fiber. Research shows people are mainly eating fatty french fries when they go out to eat.

“People do not have fryers at home, usually,” Drewnowski said. “[The potatoes] are usually boiled or part of other dishes. So, I for one welcome the inclusion of potatoes in the federal WIC program.”

The federal bill directs the USDA to put potatoes back in the WIC menu while it conducts another review of the guidelines.

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