Free potatoes for low-income women and children, maybe…

Government-subsidized vouchers issued by the Woman, Infants and Children nutrition program (WIC) could soon be used to purchase white potatoes. Congress is considering a massive spending bill including this potato provision before the year wraps up. Fruits and vegetables were first allowed into the program back in 2009, according to PBS Newshour, but white potatoes didn’t […]

Government-subsidized vouchers issued by the Woman, Infants and Children nutrition program (WIC) could soon be used to purchase white potatoes. Congress is considering a massive spending bill including this potato provision before the year wraps up.

Fruits and vegetables were first allowed into the program back in 2009, according to PBS Newshour, but white potatoes didn’t make the cut. Some think this is because they aren’t particularly nutritious, or at least appear not to be considering they are used to make french fries. In fact, the Institute of Medicine had recommended that they be excluded stating that WIC recipients already eat enough white potatoes.

The potato industry has aggressively lobbied for inclusion, saying it’s not as much about sales as the perception that potatoes aren’t as nutritious as other vegetables. Lawmakers from roughly 40 potato-growing states have been pushing for several years to include the potato in the program. The potato’s advocates argue that it provides potassium, dietary fiber and folate, a water-soluble B vitamin, which can be helpful for pregnant women. They say it is also economical, which could help low-income mothers stretch their dollars.

“Potatoes are cholesterol-free, fat-free and sodium-free and can be prepared in countless healthy ways,” Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from the potato-growing state of Maine said in a statement Wednesday.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has opposed efforts to add white potatoes to WIC, but he said in a letter to a member of Congress earlier this year that USDA would move up a regular review of the WIC food package by more than a year so the department could seek the assistance of the institute to learn if excluding white potatoes “is still supported by the most current science available.” That review by the institute, which advises the government on health matters, is already underway.

Newshour reported that at an event on Thursday, Vilsack still stood by the institute’s recommendations. “When it comes to children’s health, I’ve got much more confidence in pediatricians than politicians,” he said.

[Photo from flickr user Tommy Hemmert Olesen]