USA Today recently invited controversy with its editorial “Let science decide what food to subsidize: Our view”, in which they support the Institute of Medicine’s recommendation that potatoes be excluded from the WIC list. The IOM maintains that Americans eat lots of potatoes without the support of a government subsidy – without getting a lot of benefit. The opposing viewpoint also printed by USA Today didn’t really have much teeth; it merely stated that while most potatoes eaten by Americans aren’t healthy (we’re looking at you, tater tots and french fries,) there ARE healthy ways to eat potatoes, which, while true, doesn’t counter the french fry problem.
This isn’t a new debate, potatoes or no. How nutritional subsidy money is converted into agricultural products is extremely complicated – and agricultural groups (looking at YOU, Idaho Potato Growers) are quick to rally against any decision that might direct subsidies away from their products. For instance, flavored milks have long been viewed by dairy farmers as a way to “close the gap because children prefer it and will drink more milk when it’s flavored”. Parents and nutritionists’ concerns that flavored milk teaches children to prefer flavored beverages instead of teaching them to drink milk have gone largely ignored. Sadly, this brings up another issue: studies on milk focus on whether or not it is consumed instead of how to address the nutritional needs of those who don’t want it. The dairy industry has fought to make sure that children who don’t like milk will still drink it, and drive the studies that support increased milk drinking over alternate solutions.
Food companies have spent over 5 million dollars lobbying to keep their products in school lunch, against the guidelines provided by the Institute of Medicine. WIC seems to be the next target. The question is, when will the American taxpayer stand up and ask that their dollars go towards sound nutritional science instead of to businesses with a financial interest in subsidies?