Tell USDA to let them eat potatoes

Rik Dalvit/For the Capital Press

Editorial

According to the USDA, you really can eat too much of a good thing. That's the message the department, through its Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children -- popularly called WIC -- is sending to potato growers.

Let's get this right. Potatoes are good for you. They offer vitamins and minerals galore. Yet, white potatoes are getting boot from the WIC program because -- get this -- people like to eat them.

It all started in 2007, when the USDA began to revise the list of foods the 9.1 million participants of WIC should be able to eat. Each month, WIC provides an average of $42.55 to mothers with small children to help them buy groceries.

Of all of the foods considered for WIC, only white potatoes were excluded.

The reason: Americans already eat the recommended amount of potatoes each day. Yams and sweet potatoes are OK, but all other potatoes are off the list, because one of WIC's goals is to expand the variety of fruits and vegetables participants eat, a spokeswomen said.

Here's the problem with that reasoning. Variety in a diet is fine, but the main goal of WIC is making sure mothers and young children eat well. If that's the case, it only makes sense to include all foods that are good for them. Why exclude potatoes -- or any other nutritious food, for that matter?

We're not saying WIC recipients should eat only potatoes. We're just saying that potatoes shouldn't be excluded from a program that pumped $4.6 billion into the marketplace last year.

Times are tough in the potato industry. Unhealthful carbohydrate-free fad diets and all sorts of off-the-wall issues have come along in the past decade. Combined, they have cut into the market for potatoes.

The result is low prices driven by lower demand. For USDA's WIC to tell potato growers to get lost is just one more slap in the face to an industry that's already on the ropes.

Allowing WIC participants to buy potatoes would be a plus for both families and potato growers. The lower prices would let the mothers get more for the money, and, in turn, the added demand would help growers reduce their inventory.

Instead of choosing favored foods for its WIC list, USDA should proudly promote all U.S.-grown foods, because they are healthful and good for American families.

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