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Sen. Collins to offer potato amendment on USDA spending bill

by Joan Murphy | September 08, 2011

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) decided against offering an amendment to force the U.S. Department of Agriculture to keep potatoes on school lunch menus at a Sept. 7 markup of USDA's spending bill, but warned she may offer it when the bill reaches the Senate floor.

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee approved legislation Sept. 7 to bankroll USDA and the Food & Drug Administration for Fiscal 2012, starting Oct. 1.

Few amendments were discussed but one was raised by Sen. Collins, who said that she supported USDA's school lunch proposal to boost fruits, vegetables and whole grains in school programs.

"I do, however, continue to have grave concerns about a USDA rule that needlessly limits potatoes, peas and other vegetables" in school lunch programs, Sen. Collins said. Potatoes and peas are nutrition, and while french fries may be a problem, baked potatoes are not, she said.

But Sen. Collins agreed to withhold the amendment until the bill reaches the Senate floor.

"This is a serious issue and it has serious consequences to the school lunch program," she added.

A food fight has been brewing for months over USDA's decision to limit certain starchy vegetables in a proposed school nutrition rule. The Maine Senator said that the focus should be on how the vegetables are prepared and not the nutritious vegetables themselves.

A stripped down version of the FY 2012 spending bill passed the House in the spring. The Senate version would fund the FDA at $2.4 billion, a $335 million boost from the House-passed measure. Some $40 million would go to implementing the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act.

The bill also continues full mandatory funding for the Market Access Program, a popular promotional program for agricultural groups.