Consumers, Fresh/ Table, Health/Nutrition/Food Safety, North America

Senators rally to defend the potato’s vegetable status amid USDA and HHS reclassification debate

In a striking show of unity, a group of 14 U.S. Senators has penned a letter to the heads of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), expressing vehement opposition to the potential reclassification of potatoes as grains in the forthcoming 2025-2030 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs).

The letter, addressed to Secretaries Tom Vilsack and Xavier Becerra, outlines a robust defense of the potato’s status as a vegetable.

“The scientific justification behind the assertion that potatoes are not vegetables is not strong,” the senators argue, emphasizing the “documented nutritional benefits of potatoes.” This move comes amid circulating press reports hinting at a seismic shift in the DGAs’ categorization of this staple food.

Potatoes are different than grains

Historically, the USDA has always classified potatoes as vegetables. The senators underscore this point by highlighting the horticultural and nutritional characteristics that distinguish potatoes from grains. Citing the substantial contributions of potatoes in terms of potassium, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin B6, and fiber, the letter states, “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.”

The letter also notes that potatoes contain more potassium than bananas, a fruit renowned for its high potassium content.

Far-reaching consequences of reclassification

The senators express concerns that reclassifying potatoes as grains could have far-reaching consequences, leading to consumer confusion, retail and restaurant disruptions, and impacts on growers and the entire supply chain. Additionally, they argue that such a change could adversely affect federal nutrition programs, which rely on the DGAs for guidance. Schools, already grappling with meeting vegetable consumption recommendations affordably, would be particularly hard hit, as potatoes often represent the most cost-effective vegetable option.

The letter also references a 2013 study from the National Library of Medicine titled “White Potatoes, Human Health, and Dietary Guidance,” which advocates for the inclusion of potatoes in the vegetable group due to their critical nutrient contributions. “It does not make any sense for your departments to reclassify potatoes as a grain,” the senators state firmly.

Current classification to be maintained

In conclusion, the group of senators urges the USDA and HHS to maintain the current classification of potatoes as vegetables and to provide an update on this issue promptly, given the fast-approaching timeline for the new DGAs.

This debate is not just about the humble potato; it touches on broader issues of nutritional guidelines, federal food programs, and the economic implications for a range of stakeholders. As the USDA and HHS consider their next steps, the potato remains at the heart of a complex and potentially transformative dietary guideline discussion.

Source: United States Senate. Read the senator’s original letter here
Related: Are Idaho’s famous potatoes vegetables or … grains?! Senators take a stand in food debate
Photo: Credit James Hills from Pixabay

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