The spud battle continues on whether to change the classification of a potato

Apr 3, 2024, 12:50 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)

Claims that the U.S. Government is trying to re-classify a popular vegetable as grain are half-baked.

That’s what one government agency claims.

But the issue is far from settled.

The humble tuber caused a stir earlier this week when Washington’s U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell and about a dozen other senators sent a letter to the head of the Agriculture Department urging the USDA not to change the potato’s classification from a vegetable to a grain.

Governor Jay Inslee’s office weighed in, issuing a statement that reclassifying the potato would “create challenges for the industry, consumer confusion and… conflict with nutritional science.”

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

But in a statement to KIRO Newsradio, the USDA said its Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee “is not and has not discussed changing the classification of potatoes.”

So KIRO Newsradio went straight to the Big Potato for clarification.

Kam Quarles is the Chief Executive Officer of the National Potato Council. He insists the USDA committee is at least looking into the idea.

“They (the committee) asked for public comment around the ability for potatoes to be reclassified or interchangeable with grains,” he said.

Quarles added that this spud battle is apparently nothing new, referring to a Congressional food fight over an Obama-era proposal to improve school lunches’ nutrition.

It would have, among other things, limited potatoes and other starchy vegetables on school menus.

The proposal ultimately failed, but the debate didn’t end.

In a 2014 report, the Harvard School of Public Health refused to refer to potatoes as a vegetable because they are high in a type of carbohydrate that can cause blood sugar to spike.

However, Quarles argues that critics overlook the benefits of potato packs.

“It actually has more potassium than a banana, has vitamin C. Those are nutrients that you don’t find in grains,” he said.

And compared to a lot of other produce, potatoes generally cost less.

Potatoes also generate jobs. According to Cantwell’s letter, “The food processing and agriculture industries create more than 164,000 jobs in Washington State.”

Our state is the second biggest potato producer in the country.

Quarles says we won’t know until the USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee makes its recommendations whether it is seriously considering reclassifying the spud or just testing the waters.

“We’re months away from any type of final report and no one knows what that final report is going to hold.”

Heather Bosch is an award-winning anchor and reporter on KIRO Newsradio. You can read more of her stories here. Follow Heather on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here.

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The spud battle continues on whether to change the classification of a potato