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Updated: March 29, 2024

Eat your veggie: Collins leads charge against reclassifying potatoes as a grain

File photo Maine ranks No. 10 for potato production in the United States, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers wants to ensure the vegetable is not reclassified as a grain.

Pushing back against a possible reclassification of the potato as a grain in the official Dietary Guidelines for Americans, U.S. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is trying to keep the spud a vegetable.

Collins, a native of Caribou in the heart of Maine potato country, teamed with U.S. Sen. Michael Bennett, D-Colo., to lead a bipartisan group of 14 senators objecting to any change.

“Since the inception of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it has classified potatoes correctly as a vegetable,” the group writes in a March 26 letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack.

“If potatoes were to be reclassified, consumers would miss out on vital nutrients. In addition, any change to potatoes’ current classification under the DGAs would immediately confuse consumers, retailers, restaurant operators, growers and the entire supply chain.”

The letter also notes that because federal nutrition programs rely on DGAs to ensure that beneficiaries are receiving well-balanced, nutritious food, any change could come at a cost to schools.

"Schools already struggle to meet vegetable consumption at a reasonable cost, and potatoes are often the most affordable vegetable," the lawmakers note.

In Maine, which ranks among the top 10 states for potato production, the sector has a far-reaching economic impact, contributing $540 million in annual sales and 6,100 jobs, according to the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry in a September report.

Close to two-thirds of Maine potatoes are used for processed foods like French fries and potato chips.

The Maine Potato Board did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the spud spat on Capitol Hill.

In the lawmakers’ letter to Vilsack, they note that there is no debate about the physical characteristics of the potato and its horticultural scientific classification. The letter also highlights the nutritional properties of potatoes, which — unlike grains — are rich in potassium, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin B6 and fiber.

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