(UPDATED COVERAGE, 4:50 p.m.) The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s final say on changes to Women, Infants and Children program rules shuts the door on white potatoes.
The exclusion — referring to all non-sweet potatoes — has been in place since 2009, but the USDA announced the final rule on Feb. 28.
Agriculture Undersecretary Kevin Concannon, however, said a new scientific review of the WIC food packages will begin soon.
A statement from the National Potato Council said the group is disappointed with the agency’s decision but will continue to work for approval in the WIC fruit and vegetable vouchers.
The final rule also indicates that the fruit and vegetable voucher for children would be raised from $6 to $8 per month. Vouchers for women remain at $10 each month.
Other changes allow purchases of fresh fruits and vegetables instead of jars of baby food for older infants.
Those changes will help increase fruit and vegetable consumption, said Tom Stenzel, president of the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C. Another provision allows WIC mothers to add their own money to fruit and vegetable purchses when the price goes over the amount of the voucher.
“Our only disappointment is that we continue to believe that WIC vouchers should include all fresh fruits and vegetables, without added fats, sugar or sodium, including fresh white potatoes,” Stenzel said in a statement.
Concannon said potatoes remain banned because of Institute of Medicine recommendations, and it minimizes the risk of confusion about the fruit and vegetable vouchers.
Concannon said potatoes remain banned because of Institute of Medicine recommendations, and it minimizes the the risk of confusion about the fruit and vegetable vouchers.
At the same time, Concannon acknowledged language in the 2014 appropriations bill expressed the desire of Congress that all varieties of vegetables be included in WIC.
The fiscal 2014 appropriations bill for the USDA, passed in January, directed the agency to amend regulations so that all varieties of fresh, whole or cut vegetables can be included in the WIC fresh produce vouchers. If the USDA does not comply, the legislation asked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to submit a report to Congress explaining the decision.
Concannon said the USDA has listened to lawmakers, but said the agency will maintain a science-based approach to changes in the WIC food packages.
“This is a science-based program and our department is committed to a science-based review of the food packages provided by WIC,” he said.
By early March, Concannon said the USDA will ask the Institute of Medicine to “jump start” the review of WIC foods, in anticipation of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act in 2015.
“We will be starting that scientific review a year earlier than normally would have been the case and in so doing we honor our commitment to science but also to point out that we are listening,” he said.
Concannon said the USDA has explained to Congressional leaders about what it intends to do in a letter sent Feb. 27, but he said he has not received any formal feedback from lawmakers yet.
The USDA’s decision to exclude potatoes relied on consumption data from the 1990s, according to the National Potato Council’s statement.
“Much has changed over the past two decades, and the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consumption data from its National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey demonstrate that today’s women and children are falling well short of their consumption targets for starchy vegetables,” according to the release.
The NPC said that USDA failed to use its own nutritional recommendations from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which calls for Americans to eat more starchy vegetables, including white potatoes.
Fresh white potatoes would supplement the diets of WIC participants with need potassium and dietary fiber, according to the NPC statement.