Potatoes Added to WIC Program

December 17, 2014

Participants in the federal WIC feeding program will soon be able to buy fresh potatoes with their vouchers. WIC administrators have kept potatoes off the list of fruits and vegetables eligible for voucher purchases, but last week Congress passed an appropriations bill that includes an override of WIC’s ban on fresh potatoes.

WIC is technically known as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children enacted by Congress in 1972. Fresh fruits and vegetables have been made available to participants since 2009 through a voucher system, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), which administers WIC, has steadfastly rejected potatoes for inclusion.

The FNS policy is the second major slight of the potato industry in recent years. In 2011 the agency issued an unpopular proposal to virtually eliminate potatoes from federally subsidized school lunches and breakfasts. Congress defeated the USDA intention by passing an amendment to an appropriations bill that denied funding for implementing the proposal.

Congress took a similar tack on the WIC issues. The Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015, which cleared the House Dec. 11 and the Senate Dec. 13, does not allow funding to “be used to exclude or restrict . . . the eligibility of any variety of fresh, whole, or cut vegetables” in the WIC program. Potatoes, though not named specifically, are a part of that provision.

The measure, which was presented to the President Tuesday for signing, also requires the USDA to do a review of the nutrient values of all vegetables. The National Potato Council in arguing for including potatoes in the WIC voucher system has pointed out to the FNS that potatoes are rich in nutrients needed by mothers and young children and are available inexpensively. The forthcoming USDA nutrient review is expected to confirm that on scientific grounds potatoes should not be discriminated against.

Furthermore, the USDA will be under close scrutiny in its nutrient evaluations and WIC vegetable eligibility recommendations. It will have to produce all the nutrient data it uses and explain its positions in a report submitted to key committees in the Senate and the House. In addition, the Comptroller of the United States will do an audit of the USDA’s work including an audit of “the scientific research and data used to conduct the review.”

Winter Potato Conference Registration
Committee Assignment
The Weekly Potato Report