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May 22 2014

Senate Appropriations Committee Approves Senator Collins' Request to Include Fresh, White Potato in WIC Program

Agriculture funding bill also includes language to address concerns of Maine dairy farmers

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee today approved a bipartisan agreement, authored by Senators Susan Collins and Mark Pryor (D-AR), that would allow families using the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program to purchase all fresh, healthy vegetables, including the white potato, which has been excluded from the program.

The agreement, included in the Fiscal Year 2015 Agriculture appropriations bill, would allow all fresh vegetables, including the fresh, white potato to be included in the WIC program immediately upon enactment of the bill. It’s important to note that the language also states that vegetables with added sugars, fats, or oils cannot be purchased using WIC vouchers. The provision also requires USDA to commence the next scheduled regular review of the WIC food package, including an evaluation of the nutrient value of all fresh fruits and vegetables, to determine the long-term inclusion or exclusion of any fresh fruit or vegetable. USDA would be required to report back to Congress with its findings.

“USDA’s decision ought to be driven by nutritional facts and food science. In that kind of review, the fresh, white potato wins, hands down. The potato has more potassium than bananas, a food commonly associated with this nutrient, which is important for pregnant women and new mothers. Potatoes are cholesterol-free, fat-free, and sodium-free, and can be prepared in countless healthy ways. A medium baked potato contains 15 percent of the daily recommended value of dietary fiber, 27 percent of the daily recommended value for vitamin B6, and 28 percent of the daily recommended value of Vitamin C,” Senator Collins said. “It also defies logic that WIC participants may purchase fresh white potatoes sold at a farmers’ market but may not purchase fresh white potatoes sold in grocery stores. Potatoes are an affordable and nutrient-dense food that all WIC participants should be able to purchase regardless of the where they are sold.”

Currently, fresh white potatoes are the only fresh fruit or vegetable excluded from the approved WIC food package, which sends a message to Americans that potatoes are not nutritious and inappropriately limits the choices of those using WIC vouchers. Potatoes' exclusion from the U.S. Department of Agriculture rule went into effect in December 2009 and is based on recommendations of the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans report, which uses consumption data that is nearly 20 years old. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, however, recommends five to six cups of these vegetables per week for women with a daily caloric intake of 1,800 to 2,400 calories — an increase of two to three cups per week from the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

In addition, the FY 2015 Agriculture funding bill also includes language to benefit Maine dairy farmers by requiring USDA to examine dairy pricing through a pre-hearing procedure long sought by Maine’s dairy farmers. The purpose of the pre-hearing is to consider amendment of the federal Milk Market Order Program’s pricing formula.

“Dairy farmers in Maine and across the Northeast region have been under a great deal of financial stress in recent years due to the wildly volatile and fluctuating price of milk,” Senator Collins continued. “The language, supported by Maine’s dairy farmers and Maine’s Commissioner of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, Walt Whitcomb, prompts USDA to pursue reform of an archaic and convoluted process. Once one of Maine's most important agricultural industries, just 287 dairy farms remain in our state today, and they are threatened because of the way USDA sets dairy prices.”

Finally, the FY 2015 Agriculture funding bill continues to support important agricultural research and extension activities, including language and funding on a range of issues, from potatoes to wild blueberries to aquaculture to forest products, important to the state of Maine.