We wholeheartedly support the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s goal to increase the availability of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in its federal nutrition programs and were surprised to read a recent Washingt on Post column published in the BDN, “A white potato subsidy for low-income pregnant women,” that implied the fresh, white potato is somehow unhealthy.
USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC, is one of the most successful tools our country has for strengthening the nutrition and health of pregnant women and young children. Unfortunately, it excludes only one fresh vegetable — the white potato — despite the many nutritional benefits of this affordable vegetable. We are simply asking the department to follow the latest nutritional guidelines.
USDA has an obligation to base federal nutrition programs on sound science and the latest nutritional data, which are the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The rules, written by USDA, state that the dietary intake of potassium, dietary fiber, calcium, and Vitamin D are “low enough to be of public health concern for both adults and children.” So it makes perfect sense for the department to promote good sources of these critical nutrients, including the fresh white potato.
The fact is, potatoes have more potassium than bananas. They are cholesterol-free, fat-free and sodium-free. A medium baked potato contains 15 percent of the daily recommended value of dietary fiber, 27 percent of the daily recommended value for vitamin B6, and 28 percent of the daily recommended value of vitamin C. We are not encouraging children or pregnant women to eat more french fries or any other fried food. But eating baked potatoes, with their skin, is a good, nutritious choice. Instead of prohibiting the purchase of the fresh potato, USDA should encourage its healthy preparation.
Aside from the overall healthfulness of the potato and its role as a nutrient-dense, affordable vegetable, other glaring inconsistencies in the implementation of this rule remain. For example, potatoes for sale in a supermarket are not available for purchase using WIC fresh fruit and vegetable vouchers. Those same potatoes, however, are eligible for purchase using the vouchers in the WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. We find it troubling that programs with the same ultimate mission would unnecessarily apply inconsistent scientific standards.
Yes, the potato industry is important to both our states and many more. It provides good jobs for hard-working Americans. But we are not asking for special treatment. We are only asking USDA to play fair and to recognize that excluding potatoes is inconsistent with the department’s own dietary guidelines.
Susan Collins, a Republican, represents Maine in the U.S. Senate. Mark Udall, a Democrat, is a U.S. senator representing Colorado.