Potato Growers Enraged: White Spuds Excluded From Poverty Program

Tuesday, 25 Mar 2014 09:12 PM

By Sharon Churcher

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Federal bureaucrats say low-income women and their children eat too many white potatoes.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released "final rules" governing foods eligible for grocery vouchers issued under its Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children .

The program is designed, the regulations explain, to nourish "at-risk, low-income, pregnant, breastfeeding, non-breastfeeding postpartum women, infants and children up to five years of age."

In the first revision of the rules since 1980, the USDA increased the budget for fruits and vegetables -- except white potatoes.

The decision has enraged growers in states like Wisconsin. They say a single white spud contains more vitamin C than an orange and more potassium than a banana.

It's cholesterol-free, fat-free and sodium-free.

"It seems crazy. Fresh white potatoes are about the only thing in the produce department you cannot buy with a WIC voucher. It makes absolutely no scientific sense that we are being excluded," fumed Duane Maatz, executive director of the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association.

"This is a challenging issue for us because it sends a message to WIC households, and the children in those households, that fresh potatoes are a product they shouldn't buy."

The ban was initiated six years ago, based on a recommendation from the Institute of Medicine. The health advisory group, which was chartered by Abraham Lincoln in 1863, determined that the white variety of the vegetable already was widely consumed by the poor, often in the form of French fries, and that vouchers would be better used for other produce.

Supporters of the ban
contend that growers do not care about women’s health.

"I love potatoes, but they don’t need to be in WIC," one expert argued on the website "Food Politics."

Another wrote: "It’s encouraging when public health wins out over industry lobbying. But this one is small potatoes. How about a few wins against Big Food?"

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