Nutritionists, USDA officials say Americans already eat enough potatoes
By MATTHEW WEAVER
The U.S. potato industry and federal officials don't see eye-to-eye over the nutritional value of spuds.
Officials of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service program called Women, Infants and Children -- WIC -- say Americans already eat enough potatoes. They say WIC, which subsidizes food purchases for mothers with young children, should concentrate on other foods.
Potato industry representatives disagree. They say WIC officials miss the point, and that their produce offers exactly the nutrition growing children need.
USDA in 2007 revised the list of foods subsidized through WIC. The list, which excludes white potatoes, was based on recommendations from the National Academies of Sciences Institute of Medicine. It determined that most Americans already consume the maximum recommendation of one serving of potatoes per day, WIC spokeswoman Adriana Zorrilla said.
Including potatoes would not support the goal of expanding the variety of fruits and vegetables available to program participants, she said. Yams and sweet potatoes are covered by WIC, Zorrilla said, but all other potatoes are excluded.
Industry representatives believe excluding potatoes sends a false message about their nutritional value.
For Washington Potato Commission Executive Director Chris Voigt, being the only fruit or vegetable shut out of the federal program is a further slap at a crop already battered by fad diets in the last decade.
"This is just kind of another stab in the back at the potato industry," he said. "We feel we're getting beat up here, unrightfully so."
Over time, it could have an impact on consumption, said John Keeling, executive vice president and CEO of the National Potato Council.
It also sends a confusing signal to WIC participants.
"At the same time they excluded potatoes, they included other starchy vegetables that do not have the nutrition profile potatoes do," Keeling said.
"They said this group is usually deficient in potassium, folate, vitamin C and iron, which are all the vitamins and minerals that are in a potato," Voigt said. "It sends out a message that potatoes aren't healthy, and we beg to differ."
Many WIC participants are probably already buying potatoes for their nutritional value and because the current price of potatoes is so low, Voigt said.
"If you go to the grocery store, unfortunately for us, potatoes are very inexpensive right now," he said.
USDA will accept comments on the new regulation until Feb. 1, Zorrilla said.
Voigt said the commission will work to educate Congress on potato nutrition as it prepares to reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act, which covers WIC and school lunches.