March 2015
The Magnificent Seven By John Keeling, Executive Vice President and CEO

At the National Potato Council (NPC) annual meeting on Jan. 9, 2015, in Orlando, Florida, seven NPC past presidents were invited to come on stage to be recognized for their involvement in adding fresh white potatoes to the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. Each past president received a framed copy of WIC educational material that was hand-delivered to members of Congress. The battle was fought long and hard with victory within arm’s length throughout that seven-year course, but at the end of the day it remained an uphill battle until the bitter end.

Picture a grocery store clerk telling a WIC mother that she cannot use the vouchers provided by USDA to purchase fresh white potatoes but ANY other fruit or vegetable in the grocery store is acceptable. Think of the message that sends about the nutrition of a potato. Although she could buy the same potato with a voucher at a farmer’s market, until Congress acted last year, grocery store potatoes were off limits.

WIC, a program designed to increase the intake of key nutrients for a population with special nutritional needs, expanded in 2009 to allow participants to use WIC vouchers to purchase all fresh fruits and vegetables, with the singular exception of fresh white potatoes. For the past several years, NPC has worked to include fresh white potatoes for purchase in the WIC program on the basis of nutritional science. On Dec. 16, 2014, the tireless efforts of NPC grower leaders and the entire potato industry paid off when President Obama signed the 2015 Appropriations Act into law with directions from Congress to include potatoes in the WIC program.

NPC presidents facilitated the mandated change in public policy during those seven years, who did their part in educating members of Congress on the nutritional value of potatoes for all consumers but particularly for the special needs of WIC participants. Members of Congress took a bipartisan look and acknowledged the importance of WIC mothers having the ability to use vouchers and buy an affordable bag of potatoes that are nutritious and an important source of potassium and fiber, which are identified by the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services as nutrients of concern.”

The potato community is appreciative of the leadership shown by Congress to pass this bill and return common sense to the WIC program by recognizing the nutritional value of fresh white potatoes. The framed graphic held by the past presidents below depicts two identical sacks of potatoes. One is WIC approved for purchase of fresh potatoes in a farmers market with a WIC voucher and the other is ineligible for purchase in grocery stores using a WIC voucher. The pair of visuals created confusion and prompted the question amongst its viewers, “What’s the difference?”

“As a potato industry we knew we were doing the right thing from a scientific, nutritional and economic standpoint. We knew what we were doing was best for the women and children of the U.S. and that’s what kept us going through those challenging times,” said Justin Dagen, 2011 NPC president.

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