Spud snub: Idaho Rep. decries potato ‘ban’

Revisions to a federal nutrition program for women and children do not incorporate potatoes, sparking outrage from an Idaho lawmaker who contends the exclusion ignores congressional intent.

The Agriculture Department’s updated regulations for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the program’s first comprehensive update since 1980, are meant to increase access to healthy fruits and veggies.

Fresh, white potatoes didn't make the cut, according to Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), who expressed outrage over the spud snub.

“I am deeply disappointed in the USDA’s decision to ignore legislation that directed the agency to include fresh potatoes in the WIC Program,” Simpson said. “Congress’ support of potatoes in WIC is crystal clear and I intend to use every means available to me, and any possible legislative vehicle that develops, to reverse this ban and restore the rightful inclusion of white potatoes in the WIC program.”

The USDA touted the revisions, pointing to a 30-percent increase in the dollar amount for children's fruits and vegetables purchases.

The changes also expand whole grain options, offer yogurt as a partial milk substitute for children and women and give parents the option of choosing fresh fruits and vegetables instead of jarred infant food.

"The updates to the WIC food package make pivotal improvements to the program and better meet the diverse nutritional needs of mothers and their young children," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

The agency said the changes also give states more flexibility to meet “the nutritional and cultural needs” of participants of the program, aimed at low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women, infants, and children up to age five.

WIC serves more than 8.5 million people every month, according to USDA figures.

“It has a proven record of healthier pregnancies and birth outcomes, and better growth and development of young children,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who praised the revisions in a statement released Friday afternoon.

"Updating the foods families can purchase with their WIC dollars will help improve the long-term health of the youngest and most vulnerable Americans,” she said. “And enabling parents to purchase foods that meet their cultural requirements is a welcome change that reflects our country's diversity.”

But Simpson, who hails from a state whose official slogan is, “Great Potatoes. Tasty Destinations,” complained that the program’s diversity did not extend to Idaho’s most famous cash crop.

Spending legislation enacted this year was accompanied with “a clear directive” that all fresh vegetables be included in the WIC program, he said, adding that white potatoes are an important source of potassium and dietary fiber.

Simpson accused USDA of basing the revisions on “selective science,” and vowed to fight the “ban” with any means available.

“This issue is far from over and we will see what happens as the process moves forward,” he warned.