School Lunch Programs Become a Hot Potato.


In January 2011 the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposed changes to school nutrition guidelines limiting potato consumption to one cup per week… and U.S. potato farmers are not happy with the lunch

As of 2008 there were an estimated 76 million students in U.S. schools. Potato farmers have to be looking at this proposed change as a meaningful threat to consumption. The ripple through agriculture will be significant. The decision will impact acres and affect farmers, potato processing companies and food service companies. Not to mention school lunch programs and school district budgets.

School districts are running the numbers, knowing that potatoes are a relatively inexpensive vegetable source. Results show that replacing potatoes in school lunch programs will further run up costs on meal programs that are already under-funded. The districts see the USDA change as an unfunded government mandate that puts added budget pressure on a system that can ill afford it.

But the case isn’t closed yet.

The National Potato Council and other industry groups have been providing information about the nutritional profile of potatoes when they are correctly prepared, and apparently the message is starting to get through. The USDA has agreed to take another look at their proposed rule change.  

There’s no question what potato farmers across the U.S. are feeling about the USDA’s proposed changes to school lunch guidelines. It will have an unprecedented impact on the entire potato industry. What’s most difficult about a situation such as this is the fact that so much is out of the farmers’ control. One federal policy change to one federal program would impact millions of Americans and cost untold millions of dollars in lost production and increased school lunch costs.

The nutritional impact of a change limiting potato consumption in schools is arguable and negligible. Potato industry groups have done a good job of proving that. However, the economic impact of such a change would be significant. Situations like this show just how far reaching our federal farm and food policy really is.    

So what do you think? Do policy makers pass the test with their school lunch recommendation, or did they fail to do their homework?


Dr. Colin N. Clarke is a senior strategist for AdFarm. He monitors trends and issues related to farming, food production and agri-business. Follow Colin on Twitter @ClarkeAgWorld.

(Photo: Craig Lassig, AP Images)