Ag Secretary Defends Dropping Potatoes From Federal Food Program for Low-Income Mothers
Thursday, October 21, 2010
By Dan Joseph
(CNSNews.com) – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says there is nothing wrong with eating potatoes in moderation, even though 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 U.S. Dept. of Agriculture also is limiting potatoes in the federal School Lunch Program.
When CNSNews.com posed the question -- "Is there anything wrong with eating potatoes in moderation?" -- Thursday to Vilsack at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., he responded, "No," but then quipped to the room full of reporters, “Potatoes are a source of ethanol, I'm sure.” Vilsack had been speaking on the issue of biofuels production.
“The quick answer to this is that studies have shown that WIC participants are already purchasing potatoes in sufficient quantities. There’s no need to encourage purchasing of potatoes because they’re already purchasing sufficient quantities. That’s why it’s not in the supply,” Vilsack added.
The WIC program, which is operated by Vilsack’s USDA in conjunction with state agencies, has drawn fire for including “fresh fruits and vegetables” but not white potatoes in food packages given to low-income mothers – and it won’t allow federal vouchers to be spent on potatoes.
The exclusion of potatoes stems from a reccomendation in a report from the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine. The recommendation was “made to encourage consumption of other fruits and vegetables," according to Christine Stencel, a spokeswoman for the Institute of Medicine.
Stencel told CNSNews.com that the IOM was charged with bringing WIC packages in line with the latest dietary guidelines, which "all kind of say that we need to encourage greater varieties of fruit and vegetable consumption in this country."
"White Potatoes are pretty widely consumed in America, so WIC participants are getting the benefits, the nutritional benefits that are in white potatoes," Stencel said. "The recommendation about not using the WIC packages to purchase white potatoes is mainly to promote the purchase and consumption of a greater variety of fruits and vegetables.
"The research shows that we Americans are generally consuming too few of those dark green leafy vegetables -- orange, yellow, red ones, et cetera. So that’s the main reason. It’s not saying that potatoes don’t have their own nutritional value, it’s just people are getting those benefits already.”
Even with the new explanation from Vilsack, Potato growers and their advocates do not see a good reason for singling out potatoes for exclusion from government food programs.
“I’m sure that they’re also buying apples, bananas and lettuce, said Voight “They’ve got to be buying other produce items and yet they’re only excluding potatoes? That seems very discriminatory.”