“There is no guarantee that the money that is provided for the nutrition programs is spent solely and completely on nutrition,” he said. Such a waiver would be an administrative nightmare, requiring the USDA to audit books of local school districts to determine if the waiver is legitimate, Vilsack said.
“The reality is that it is a step back, not a step forward,” he said.
Vilsack said the language for the waiver is a retreat from strong bipartisan Congressional support that won passage of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010.
Vilsack also said the USDA remains opposed to adding potatoes to the Women, Infants and Children fruit and vegetable voucher, despite language in both the House and Senate appropriations bills instructing the USDA to do so.
“Medical experts tell us that youngsters don’t consume enough dark green, orange, red vegetables, and the WIC program supplements and provides moms the opportunity to purchase those vegetables they might not purchase to complement the potatoes that are already part of that family’s diet,” he said.
The USDA doesn’t think the inclusion of potatoes is necessary or consistent with the experts, he said.
“Pediatricians know more about children’s health than politicians do,” he said. “This shouldn’t be driven by economics of an industry, it should be driven by the health care of our children,” he said.
While he appreciates that potato growers are capable of producing more potatoes, Americans sill consume about 84 pounds per person on average.
“I think the key here for potato growers is for us to continue to be doing what we are doing in terms of expanding export markets so that potatoes are available to folks that could use them, but not in the WIC program.”