Susan Collins spotlights spuds for federal nutrition program

Posted June 04, 2013, at 4:41 p.m.
Sen. Susan Collins
Amy Fried | BDN
Sen. Susan Collins

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins again is pushing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to include white potatoes in one of the largest federal food assistance programs.

White potatoes have been excluded from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children since December 2009. Collins and Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colorado, have filed an amendment to the national farm bill requiring that white potatoes be included in the program along with all other fresh vegetables and fruits, according to a press release from Collin’s office. The amendment would allow fresh, whole, or cut vegetables to be included while prohibiting vegetables with added sugars, fats or oils.

Fresh white potatoes are the only fresh vegetable excluded from the WIC food program, which sends a message to Americans that potatoes are not nutritious, Collins said in the release.

“The potato is a wonderfully nutritious food that is inexpensive, easy to transport, has a long storage life and can be used in a wide array of recipes,” Collins said. “It makes perfect sense to include this healthy, locally grown vegetable in the WIC package.”

White potatoes were excluded from the WIC program largely because the USDA determined that recipients already eat enough of the vegetable, according to the USDA’s website. Collins argued that the exclusion was based on recommendations from a 2005 federal report that relied on 20-year-old data. The 2010 update of the report, however, recommended five to six cups of starchy vegetables per week for women who consume 1,800 to 2,400 calories daily, an increase of two to three cups per week from the 2005 report, she said.

The WIC program makes qualifying foods available for low-income and nutritionally at-risk pregnant women and their infants and children.

The rule change applies only to white potatoes. Sweet potatoes and yams are allowed.

Potatoes have more potassium than bananas, are free of cholesterol, fat and sodium and provide fiber and vitamins, Collins said in the release.

Collins and other members of Maine’s congressional delegation have advocated for potatoes to be included in the WIC program for several years. The potato industry has launched an aggressive campaign to point out the health benefits of the vegetable.

The USDA also previously sought to ban potatoes from school lunches. In 2012, following pressure from Collins, Democratic 2nd District U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, and former U.S. Sen Olympia Snowe, the agency released guidelines that do not restrict servings of potatoes in schools.

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