At a time when much of the nation seems to be getting with the campaign for better nutrition, big potato growers are pushing Congress to ignore the USDA guidelines that keep white potatoes off the list of fresh vegetables eligible for a part of the Women Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program to provide fresh produce in poor families’ diets.
It’s leading to an odd battle in the Senate appropriations process: Organizations worried about nutrition in subsidized food programs for the poor are digging in against the potato industry’s efforts to destigmatize white potatoes. If nothing else, the issue has brought together allies across partisan lines in the Appropriations Committee.
A letter sent May 19 to members of Congress signed by 18 religious organizations – including Catholic Charities USA, Network, the Catholic social justice lobby, and two orders of religious women – warns against revising nutrition standards in the appropriations process.
Over the past several decades, federal child nutrition programs have played a critical role in preventing hunger and promoting health among some of our nation’s most vulnerable children. One of the reasons for their success is that the programs, including the WIC Program and the School Lunch Program, have been guided and informed by non-partisan scientific processes. Congress has appropriately set broad policy parameters for the programs, but has left program design and details to the Department of Agriculture, which typically relies on the scientific expertise of organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences.
But recently, this scientific process has come under attack as outside groups have increasingly sought to use the appropriations process to compel changes to federal nutrition programs. For example, several years ago, special interests successfully used the appropriations process to weaken the National School Lunch Program to the advantage of potato and frozen food interests. Last year, similar efforts were undertaken to attack proposed rules pertaining to school meals standards and the WIC food package.
The religious groups’ letter is one volley in an effort that has been playing out in op-ed pages over the last couple of weeks. A vote is expected in the Senate Appropriations Committee May 22 as it marks up the appropriations bill for the Department of Agriculture.
As a May 11 editorial in USA Today observed,
The potato exclusion, like every other decision about WIC’s menu of the last 40 years, is based on nutritional science — which is exactly (Read More)