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Maine senator amends bill to block USDA limits on potatoes in school lunch program

by Joan Murphy | October 19, 2011

WASHINGTON -- The potato industry hailed the Senate Oct. 18 for voting to bar the U.S. Department of Agriculture from limiting starchy vegetable servings in school lunches.

An amendment sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) would overturn the USDA’s decision to limit servings of starchy vegetables, such as white potatoes, green peas, lima beans and corn, to one cup per week in the National School Lunch Program.

The USDA issued a proposed rule in January that increased fruit and vegetables in school lunches but sparked a protest from the potato industry when some vegetables were cut back.

“I am delighted that my colleagues in the Senate have accepted our amendment,” Sen. Collins, who cosponsored the measure with Sens. Mark Udall (D-CO) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), said in a statement. “This means USDA cannot proceed with a rule that would impose unnecessary and expensive new requirements affecting the servings of healthy vegetables, such as white potatoes, green peas, corn and lima beans.”

Sen. Collins said that the USDA would have added costs to school lunch programs. “The USDA estimates that this rule could have cost as much as $6.8 billion over five years,” she said. “The lion’s share of these costs would be incurred by the state and local agencies.”

Industry groups immediately praised the Senate for attaching the language to a USDA spending bill for fiscal 2012. The Senate bill, however, must still be reconciled with a House bill that does not contain similar language.

“Senators Collins and Udall provided vital leadership in calling attention to the nutritional and economic value of potatoes and other vegetables, as well as the positive role that potatoes play in the delivery of nutrients of concern to children,” John Keeling, executive vice president and CEO of the National Potato Council, said in an Oct. 18 statement.

“With this afternoon’s Senate action, we trust that the USDA will heed the significant concerns raised by schools, citizens and elected representatives alike, and maintain the flexibility local schools need to deliver healthy meal options to school children,” Mr. Keeling said.

The American Frozen Food Institute also praised the senators for championing the amendment.

“AFFI applauds Sens. Collins and Udall for charting a path forward to improve nutrition in school meals,” AFFI President and CEO Kraig Naasz said in an Oct. 18 statement. “The so-called ‘starchy vegetables’ that kids have long enjoyed and that USDA proposes to limit are an important source of vitamins and minerals, such as fiber and potassium, and provide the energy kids need to stay mentally attentive and physically active throughout the school day.”