Are potatoes vegetables or grains? Sen. Cantwell joins lawmakers in debate

Mar 29, 2024, 6:48 PM | Updated: Apr 2, 2024, 12:15 pm

Photo: Potatoes....

Potatoes could soon have more in common with rice than carrots as the U.S. Department of Agriculture looks into reclassifying the vegetable as a grain. (File photo: MyNorthwest)

(File photo: MyNorthwest)

Senators say potatoes could soon have more in common with rice than carrots as they report the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is looking into reclassifying the vegetable as a grain.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington joined a bipartisan group of 14 senators against the reclassification, according to a news release from Sen. Cantwell’s office Friday.

The group is composed of: Sens. Cantwell, Susan Collins, R-Maine, Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, James Risch, R-Idaho, Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, Kevin Cramer, R-North Dakota, Angus King, I-Maine, John Hickenlooper, D-Colorado, Pete Ricketts, R-Nebraska, Steve Daines, R-Montana, Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, John Hoeven, R-North Dakota and Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon.

However, KIRO Newsradio reached out to the USDA which denied any such changes. In a statement, the agency said its Dietary Guidelines Advisory (DGA) Committee is not and has not discussed changing the classification of potatoes.

From 2023: Washington apple growers are celebrating a stellar crop this year

Senators write letter opposing reclassification of potatoes

The group wrote a letter to the USDA and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services opposing any change of potatoes to a grain during the DGA process.

“Since the inception of the USDA, it has classified potatoes correctly as a vegetable,” the senators wrote. “There is no debate about the physical characteristics of the potato and its horticultural scientific classification. Unlike grains, white potatoes are strong contributors of potassium, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin B6, and fiber.”

The senators’ letter went on to express concern for customers, sellers and the distribution network.

“Any change to potatoes’ current classification under the DGAs would immediately confuse consumers, retailers, restaurant operators, growers, and the entire supply chain,” they continued. “We strongly urge you to avoid reclassifying potatoes as a grain or suggest grains and potatoes are interchangeable. Given the rapid timeline that the DGAs are on, we ask that you provide us an update on this issue as soon as possible.”

The senators added more facts, writing a medium baked potato contains 15% of the daily recommended value of dietary fiber, 27% of the recommended B6 vitamin and 28% of vitamin C.

“In fact, potatoes have more potassium than bananas, a food that is commonly associated with being high in potassium,” the letter states.

They also added that “consumers would miss out on vital nutrients” if potatoes were reclassified.

Fun fact: Washington growers make up 20% of the country’s potato production. The industry supports jobs for 31,613 Washingtonians.

To learn more about the history of potato farming in the state, visit Washington Potatoes’ website.

Julia Dallas is a content editor at MyNorthwest. You can read her stories here. Follow Julia on X, formerly known as Twitter, here and email her here.

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Are potatoes vegetables or grains? Sen. Cantwell joins lawmakers in debate