NPC WORKS FOR WIC INCLUSION

Published online: Apr 30, 2008 Alan Harman
Web Exclusive
The National Potato Council is threatening a legal challenge to the exclusion of white potatoes from the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says all potatoes except orange yams and sweet potatoes are excluded from the voucher program based on scientific recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine.

NPC chief executive John Keeling says if this ruling isn't changed, the potato industry may have little choice but to challenge the science behind the rule.

"We don't want to start a food fight." Keeling is quoted as saying.

Keeling says the potato industry is working with Capitol Hill on ways to include potatoes as part of the WIC food package. A letter signed by a group of 11 senators, including Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Larry Craig (R-Idaho) asks the USDA to include fresh white-flesh potatoes represented in the nutrition program.

Keeling says the WIC program now has about 200 stock-keeping units and when fruits and vegetables are included this jumps to 2,200.

"You are talking about a significant inclusion of the entire fruit and vegetable category except potatoes, and that just isn't justified," he says. "The problem with it is there is no scientific justification for excluding potatoes from the program."

The council will look for any legislative vehicle that will allow a fix for the omission of potatoes, but more work needs to be done to see if a lawsuit would be a credible option.

Under the WIC program, participating mothers will get fruit and vegetable vouchers worth $8 a month.

   The program involves more than 8.5 million women, infants and children and the addition of fruit and vegetables is forecast to generate more than $500 million in new produce sales for retailers. 

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