USDA has a Problem with Potatoes


Potato growers are fighting efforts to ban or limit potatoes in federal child nutrition programs.

The USDA, which administers the federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program—one of the largest federal food assistance programs—is now finalizing an interim rule that bars participants from buying potatoes with their federal dollars.  The agency is also taking steps to limit potatoes in the federal School Lunch Program.

The exclusion of potatoes apparently stems from a recommendation in a report from the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine.  A spokesperson for that organization says the recommendation was made “to encourage the consumption of other fruits and vegetables.”  She says Americans aren’t consuming enough of what she calls “dark green leafy vegetables—orange, yellow, red ones, et cetera.”

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack defends the department’s decisions.  He points to studies showing that WIC participants are already purchasing potatoes in sufficient quantities.  Vilsack adds that there is nothing wrong with eating potatoes in moderation.

Meanwhile, the president and CEO of the U.S. Potato Board, Tim O’Connor, calls the USDA’s WIC decision “preposterous”.  He says potatoes provide important nutrients, including vitamin C, vitamin B6 and potassium that women and their young children are not consuming enough of.

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