Apr 9, 2024
NPC says issue of potential potato reclassification still on table

Potato advocates are casting a skeptical eye at recent comments indicating that spuds are not in danger of being reclassified from a vegetable to a grain.

A USDA spokesman told Scripps News in an April 5 article that the committee directing the 2025-2030 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, currently being written, has not considered the issue, saying: “The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is not and has not discussed considering a change to the classification of potatoes.”

National Potato Council CEO Kam Quarles took little comfort in that.

“The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is an independent committee,” Quarles told Spudman on April 9. “It will provide a report to the secretaries of both agriculture and HHS (health and human services). But for anyone upstream of the committee to say they know how an independent agency is going to come down — that’s not how independent agencies work. I would love to have a crystal ball and know exactly what their report is going to say in nine months, but I don’t.”

NPC CEO Kam Quarles said the issue of potatoes potentially being reclassified from a vegetable to a grain remains a focus of industry outreach efforts as the 2025-2030 Dietary Guidelines for Americans are written. © inspirestock, 123RF Free Images

Quarles said potatoes’ potential future on Americans’ plates remains uncertain and a focus of industry outreach efforts.

“The committee was very clear when they started their process that they want to look at the question of where potatoes fit in terms of the vegetable category or the grains category,” he said. “There appears to be some type of semantics that are going on there, saying, ‘Well, an outright reclassification is off the table, but making potatoes either a grain or a vegetable based on local political preferences of cities or states across the country — that’s fine.’ That’s just a backdoor reclassification.”

Attendees at the NPC’s Washington Summit, held Feb. 25-March 1, initiated support for a letter from 14 U.S. senators to USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra emphasizing the importance of keeping potatoes classified as a vegetable.

Potatoes have historically faced nutritional criticism for being high in the type of carbohydrate that the body digests rapidly, causing blood sugar and insulin to surge and then dip — which can result in a feeling of hunger soon after eating. The letter pointed out that potatoes are strong dietary contributors of potassium, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin B6 and fiber.

“Each update of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans has far-ranging implications throughout federal, state, and local nutrition programs,” Bob Mattive, NPC president and a Colorado potato grower, said in a statement. “We are calling on USDA and HHS to reject any effort by the DGA committee to ignore long-standing nutritional and horticultural science by reclassifying potatoes as a grain or suggesting that potatoes are interchangeable with non-vegetables.”

Quarles said he doesn’t know how or if USDA and HHS will respond to the letter, which also called for an update on the dietary guidelines process.

Kam Quarles

“We’re taking educated guesses here. There’s no firm timeline,” he said. “Our assumption is that the dietary guidelines process is driving toward a conclusion before the end of this current Biden administration. Our belief is that they’re going to try to wrap all of this up before mid-January next year.”

In the interim, NPC will continue to provide the DGA committee and federal agencies with data, Quarles said.

“We’re trying to pull every lever that we possibly can here to get a good outcome,” he said. “It’s an independent committee. We can provide to them the best science available and they can still choose to accept it or throw it out.”

The issue has made headlines and even caught the attention of The Tonight Show, where host Jimmy Fallon jokingly mentioned the debate last week.

“We’re glad that people are reacting the same way we are, that there’s a bit of comic absurdity to why you would do this,” Quarles said. “But this reclassification or interchangeability discussion is simply the latest mechanism to limit potato consumption.”

Those attempts have been going on for a decade, Quarles said, with “bold” attempts 10 years ago to restrict potatoes in school breakfast programs. Those efforts encountered pushback from schools, the public, Capitol Hill and the potato industry, he said.

“Those folks have just recalibrated,” Quarles said. “This is a tactical shift. It’s not a strategic shift.”

— Melinda Waldrop, managing editor

75 Applewood Dr. Ste. A
P.O. Box 128
Sparta, MI 49345


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