While it can be argued that lawmakers have bigger things to worry about than if potatoes are included in food packages for the Women, Infants and Children program, the priority couldn’t be much higher for the potato industry.
After being excluded from the WIC fruit and vegetable vouchers when the program began in 2009, the industry set out to show that potatoes are a strong source of nutrients and deserved inclusion in the WIC food packages.
After many attempts, the persistence of potato industry leaders has paid off — at least partially.
The fiscal 2014 omnibus appropriations bill, passed by Congress and signed by President Obama on Jan. 17, includes language that directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture to amend regulations so all varieties of fresh, whole or cut vegetables can be purchased using WIC fresh produce vouchers.
In a USDA regulation issued in 2008 that followed an earlier recommendation of an Institute of Medicines report, fresh white potatoes were excluded from the WIC vouchers because they were already widely consumed.
Even with the spending bill’s language compelling it to respond, it is uncertain if the USDA will change its policy to allow potatoes in WIC food packages.
Some might have urged the potato industry to trust the strength of its nutrition story and hope for an unforced course correction. After all, a new round of dietary guidelines, expected to be issued in 2015, will result in another evaluation of WIC food packages by the IOM.
But after waiting for this common-sense change since 2008, the industry is right to be impatient to see this exclusion reversed.
The USDA should do the sensible thing and include all fresh potatoes in the WIC produce vouchers.
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