Members of the potato industry and the state's congressional delegation are concerned that the spud is taking a back seat to other vegetables in new guidelines issued by the USDA.
US Senator Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Mark Szymanski, a spokesman for the National Potato Council, issued statements on January 25 saying they were not entirely pleased with the final rules for school meals issued by the USDA earlier in the day, reported bangordailynews.com.
Snowe said that the USDA chose a "back-door approach" that, whilst not actually limiting the amount of potato servings issued in schools, required the achievement of targets relating to all other specified fruits and vegetables before potatoes could be served.
Earlier this year, the USDA proposed new nutrition guidelines for the National School Lunch Program promoting more fruits, vegetables and whole grains while banning foods with trans fats and limiting starchy vegetables.
Snowe, along with Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Democratic 2nd District US Rep Mike Michaud immediately took action and maintained that potatoes are healthy, provided they are prepared in the right way. All three wrote letters to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack decrying proposed rules they felt unfairly targeted the potato.
Senator Snowe said the decision was disappointing after Congress had already said that it would not make potato serving amounts an issue, rather it would focus on the methods in which they were served.
She contended that limiting nutritional and cost-effective meals for school children at a time when when nine out of ten Americans are not achieving the recommended level of vegetable and fruit consumption "denies our nation's youth access to nutrient-rich foods as part of the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs."
The National Potato Council said, "Despite the fact that Congress said the USDA could not limit potatoes in school lunches or breakfast, we still feel like the potato is being downplayed in favour of other vegetables in the new guidelines."