The Michigan Potato Industry Commission continues its strong support of the National Potato Council's efforts to include potatoes in the Women, Infants and Children voucher program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
WIC gives food vouchers to low-income pregnant or breast-feeding women and women with children less than 5 years old.
"It's ironic," says Mike Wenkel, the commission's executive director. "The USDA is contradicting its own advice in this program."
The agency authorized use of WIC vouchers for fresh fruits and vegetables more than three years ago but omitted potatoes from the eligibility list for reasons not fully clear since potatoes have a 6,000-year history of nutritious consumption by humans. The original decision was based on the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) developed by the USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Those nutritional standards for potatoes and other starchy vegetables have changed. The 2005 guidelines called for consumption of about 2 cups per week, and the 2010 guidelines call for 3.5 cups per week.
"Fresh potatoes would make a perfect fit. Still the USDA makes them ineligible for WIC vouchers," Wenkel says.
The USDA argues that WIC serves a population that already consumes sufficient quantities of potatoes.
Two years ago, he noted, the USDA proposed virtually eliminating potatoes from federally subsidized school feeding programs but was overruled by an act of Congress.
If Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack doesn't change the rule, the only remaining option would be for the industry to ask Congress to intervene and pass a law saying the USDA cannot exclude potatoes.