Potato a grain or vegetable? US Senators try to defend its honour as debate rages - Hindustan Times
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Potato a grain or vegetable? US Senators try to defend its honour as debate rages

Mar 31, 2024 10:03 PM IST

Senators have urged officials of US Department of Agriculture to resist the temptation to label potatoes as grains.

In an unexpected twist on Capitol Hill, a formidable coalition of American Senators, spanning both Republican and Democratic parties, has taken a bold stand against a controversial proposal: reclassifying the potato as a grain. Yes, you read that right.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - FEBRUARY 13: Potatoes are offered for sale at a grocery store on February 13, 2024 in Chicago, Illinois.(Getty Images via AFP)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - FEBRUARY 13: Potatoes are offered for sale at a grocery store on February 13, 2024 in Chicago, Illinois.(Getty Images via AFP)

The great American vegetable and grain debate has reached a boiling point, as stakeholders grapple with whether the humble potato should be rebranded from vegetable to grain. This contentious issue is slated for consideration in the upcoming Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) for the years 2025-2030.

In a sharply worded letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, the bipartisan group of 14 Senators declared, "The scientific basis for claiming potatoes are not vegetables is as thin as a potato chip. Potatoes offer real nutritional value, and we vehemently oppose their reclassification as a grain under the DGAs."

The Senators pointed out the longstanding classification of the potato as a vegetable, dating back to the inception of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). "Unlike grains, white potatoes are powerhouses of potassium, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin B6, and fiber. Changing the potato's classification would not only confuse consumers but also throw the entire supply chain into chaos," the letter emphasized.

Potato vs. Grain: What's the raging debate?

There are reports that a joint advisory committee is considering “the interchangeability of starchy vegetables and grains.” It is tasked with providing recommendations to the USDA and HHS secretaries to help inform their development of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA).

US Senators have urged officials to resist the temptation to label potatoes as grains. "Classifying potatoes as a grain would be like saying apples and oranges are the same. We demand an urgent update on this matter from the DGAs," the letter urged.

The Senators also cited a 2013 National Library of Medicine study titled "White Potatoes, Human Health, and Dietary Guidance," which championed the potato's cause. The study concluded, “… potatoes should be included in the vegetable group because they contribute critical nutrients. All white vegetables, including white potatoes, provide nutrients needed in the diet and deserve a prominent position in food guides.”

The Senators highlighted that the reclassification would deprive consumers of vital nutrients and create widespread confusion. To further emphasize the seriousness of the issue, both sides of the classification debate have filed opposition comments, arguing that a potato by any other name would not taste as nutritious.

"In addition, our federal nutrition programs rely on the DGAs to ensure that program beneficiaries are receiving well-balanced, nutritious food. Such a change could also come at a cost to our nation’s schools. Under the National School Breakfast and National School Lunch Programs, schools already struggle to meet vegetable consumption recommendations at a reasonable cost, and potatoes are often the most affordable vegetable,” the Senators added.

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