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Published May 27, 2014, 09:33 AM

Committees pass ag appropriations

WASHINGTON — Low-income pregnant women and mothers participating in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Women, Infants and Children (WIC) would be able to buy white potatoes through that program if provisions of the House and Senate Agriculture appropriations bills become law, but nutritionists and the Obama administration are opposed to the provision.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

WASHINGTON — Low-income pregnant women and mothers participating in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Women, Infants and Children (WIC) would be able to buy white potatoes through that program if provisions of the House and Senate Agriculture appropriations bills become law, but nutritionists and the Obama administration are opposed to the provision.

The bills also contain provisions to ease up on some of the requirements for healthier food in the school meals programs.

The House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee and the Senate Appropriations Committee both passed fiscal year 2015 Agriculture appropriations bills last week that would provide funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and related agencies. The House bill will go to the full House Appropriations Committee on May 29. After that, both bills have to go to the floors of their respective chambers and, if they pass, to a conference before being voted on again and sent to President Obama, who could veto the bill.

The WIC program does not permit purchases of potatoes because the Institute of Medicine has said low-income women and children already eat plenty of potatoes and the WIC program should provide them foods that they might not otherwise buy, such as protein and fruits and green leafy vegetables. The National Potato Council points out that the Institute of Medicine has also said people need more potassium and that white potatoes are a good source of potassium.

The bills differ, however, in their approaches to the potato issue in the WIC program and to the changes in school meals. The House bill would require USDA to allow purchases of all vegetables including potatoes under the WIC program. The Senate bill would stop USDA from excluding white potatoes from the WIC program when the appropriations bill passes.

In schools

Congress has also been under pressure to relax the new rules that require schools to make lunches healthier by reducing sodium, fat and sugar and increasing servings of low-fat dairy and meat products and fruits and vegetables.

The School Nutrition Association, which represents the preparers of school meals, said school food service departments are in financial trouble because even though the schools got a 6-cent increase in their reimbursements, the healthier foods cost more than that.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., had said he would offer an amendment to grant relief to schools but instead reached a compromise with Harkin on a school meals amendment.

Harkin’s amendment includes Hoeven’s proposal to stop USDA from requiring a further reduction in sodium contained in federally reimbursed meals and snacks. It also requires Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to report to Congress within 180 days on whether there is an acceptable range of whole grain products currently available to allow schools to plan menus that are compliant with whole grain requirements that go into effect on July 1, and to identify alternative products if they are not available.

Hoeven signed on as a co-sponsor of the Harkin amendment, but said he also wanted to address schools’ cost concerns.

First Lady Michelle Obama and Tom Vilsack both campaigned against the WIC potato and school meal provisions. They said the decisions should be left up to nutritionists and USDA officials to maintain the integrity of the programs and reduce obesity in the country.

Horse slaughter

The Senate Appropriations Committee also passed an amendment sponsored by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., to ban inspection of facilities that slaughter horses for meat. Landrieu argued that the inspections would only lead to the export of horse meat from animals that had been fed drugs that are banned for human consumption.

The vote was 18 to 12 over the bitter opposition of Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., who said the ban would only lead to cruelty to horses because they would be shipped to Mexico for slaughter.

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson commended both the House and Senate appropriations for not trying to change the law requiring country of origin labeling for red meat.

“Consumers want to know the origins of their food and farmers and ranchers want to tell them. There’s no need to do harm to COOL,” said Johnson.

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