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Public Statements

The Farm Bill

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. COLLINS. Mr. President, I rise today to speak to an amendment to the farm bill on a subject important not only to the farmers of Maine but also to the participants in the WIC program. I am pleased that Senator Mark Udall has joined as the lead cosponsor of the amendment, which would require that all fresh fruits and vegetables, including fresh white potatoes, be included in the final USDA rule. Specifically, the amendment would only allow fresh, whole, or cut vegetables to be included--vegetables with added sugars, fats, or oils would be prohibited.

The proposed final USDA rule for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, WIC, food package, which went into effect in December 2009, includes a ban on the purchase of fresh white potatoes by WIC participants. Fresh potatoes are the only fruit or vegetable to be excluded, which sends a message to WIC participants that USDA believes that potatoes are not healthy.

The USDA has said that the proposed ban on fresh white potatoes is based on a 2005 National Academies' Institute of Medicine, IOM, report, which considered recommendations of the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, DGA, and includes consumption data nearly 20 years old. The subsequently published 2010 DGA, however, recommends 5 to 6 cups of starchy vegetables per week for women with a daily caloric intake of 1,800 to 2,400 calories--an increase of 2 to 3 cups per week from the 2005 DGA. USDA has yet to update the rule to reflect the most recent DGA.

The 2010 DGA lists four ``nutrients of concern''--potassium, dietary fiber, calcium, and Vitamin D. The guidelines state that dietary intake of these four nutrients ``are low enough to be of public health concern for both adults and children.'' Since USDA is concerned about a lack of these nutrients in the American diet, it would make sense for the Department to promote good sources of these critical nutrients. Yet the Department's proposed WIC rule eliminates a vegetable such as the potato that is an excellent source of these nutrients. USDA should not limit the availability of the potato but instead should encourage its healthy preparation and consumption. In a rather puzzling example of inconsistency, while the newest WIC regulations will no longer allow WIC mothers, infants, and children to buy white potatoes, if those same participants get benefits from the WIC Farmers' Market Nutrition Program, some States may allow them to purchase white potatoes at a farmers' market.

Consider the following nutritional facts about potatoes that are often overlooked: potatoes have more potassium than bananas, a food commonly associated with this nutrient; potatoes are cholesterol free, fat free, and sodium free, and can be served in countless healthy ways; a medium-baked potato contains 15 percent of the daily recommended value of dietary fiber, 27 percent of the daily recommended value for Vitamin B6, and 28 percent of the daily recommended value of Vitamin C.

It only makes common sense to include a healthy, locally grown, and nutritious vegetable such as the fresh white potato in the WIC package and I
believe the sound recommendations in the 2010 DGA support this. The Collins-Udall of Colorado amendment would achieve this by requiring that all fresh fruits and vegetables, including fresh white potatoes, be included in the final USDA rule.

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