Guest column: Giving mom the right to choose

The Obama Administration is wrong to exlude white potatoes as an option for those receiving vouchers under the WIC program, writes Sen. Mike Crapo.

By Sen. Mike Crapo

Those who argue that the Obama Administration is right in excluding white potatoes as a nutritional option in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) are essentially saying that mothers utilizing WIC should not be able to choose whether to purchase white potatoes, despite their nutritional benefits. It is like they claim to know better what is good for us. Nobody is forcing mothers to buy potatoes, but it should be their choice. Mothers who are the recipients of WIC vouchers should be able to decide whether fresh white potatoes meet their nutritional needs.

WIC managers and staff across the country support including fresh white potatoes as an option in the WIC program. We have been working to allow them as an option in WIC because their nutritional benefits contradict their exclusion from WIC. This affordable option provides many nutritional benefits. With only 110 calories, a potato contains more potassium than an equivalent sized banana, more vitamin C than a tomato and more fiber than a serving of broccoli.

As we point out in a recent bipartisan letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, the WIC food package should reflect the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). The 2010 DGA recommends that people increase their consumption of a category of vegetables that includes fresh white potatoes, and the DGA recommends that individuals choose foods that provide more potassium and dietary fiber-fresh white potatoes contain both.

Excluding white potatoes from WIC is inconsistent with other federal nutritional policy. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) allows WIC mothers to use WIC vouchers to purchase white potatoes through the WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. However, they cannot purchase the exact same bag of potatoes at grocery stores using the WIC program. This doesn’t make nutritional or economic sense.

We worked with a bipartisan group in Congress to enact law that was accompanied by a statement that it is the expectation of Congress that the USDA include all varieties of fresh vegetables, as long as they do not contain added sugars, fats, or oils, in WIC.

However, USDA disregarded this action by Congress and continues to exclude fresh white potatoes from WIC food packages. This calls into question whether this action is politically motivated. Therefore, we have supported the recent U.S. Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee’s adoption of an amendment to end the unnecessary exclusion of the nutrient-packed fresh white potato in the WIC program.

Despite its affordability and immense nutritional benefits, the white potato continues to be the only vegetable unfairly excluded. The Administration and Congress need to rectify this wrong and ensure white potatoes are included as a nutritional option for mothers in the WIC program.