Cantwell Joins Bipartisan Letter Calling for Potatoes to Remain Classified as Vegetables

“Consumers would miss out on vital nutrients” if potatoes are reclassified, wrote the Senators; Washington growers account for 20% of all U.S. potato production; industry supports 31,613 jobs in WA

WASHINGTON, D.C. – This week, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined a bipartisan group of 14 Senators in writing to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Thomas Vilsack and U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra in opposition to any reclassification of potatoes as a grain instead of a vegetable during the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) process.

According to a 2013 National Library of Medicine study, potatoes “should be included in the vegetable group because they contribute critical nutrients. All white vegetables, including white potatoes, provide nutrients needed in the diet and deserve a prominent position in food guides.”

“Since the inception of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), it has classified potatoes correctly as a vegetable,” the group of 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.”

“Any change to potatoes’ current classification under the DGAs would immediately confuse consumers, retailers, restaurant operators, growers, and the entire supply chain,” the Senators 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.”

Joining Sen. Cantwell in sending the letter to USDA and HHS were Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Michael Bennet (D-CO), James Risch (R-ID), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Angus King (I-ME), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Pete Ricketts (R-NE), Steve Daines (R-MT), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), John Hoeven (R-ND), and Jeffrey Merkley (D-OR).

The full letter can be read HERE.

Sen. Cantwell has previously written letters to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, once in 2011, and again in 2014, urging his agency to continue to regard fresh white potatoes as a contributor to a healthy, nutritious diet.

Sen. Cantwell is a champion for Washington state growers, and has focused her efforts on finding ways to ensure that Washington’s agricultural products can be exported and remain competitive in a global marketplace. In May of 2023, Sen. Cantwell sent a letter urging the Biden Administration to help U.S. potato growers finally get approval to sell fresh potatoes in Japan.

In February, Sen. Cantwell wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack urging him to issue an official disaster declaration for the season’s sweet cherry harvest, after Washington’s sweet cherry growers lost much of their crop due to unusual weather patterns. Last week, Sen. Cantwell announced that Sec. Vilsack had issued the disaster declaration and made emergency loans of up to $500,000 available to growers.

When India placed retaliatory tariffs on American agricultural exports in May of 2018, she worked tirelessly to have them removed, including by meeting with the Indian Ambassador and top Biden Administration officials. Since the tariffs were lifted in June of 2023, Washington growers have enjoyed a hugely successful apple shipping season.

In June of 2023, Sen. Cantwell hosted Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), chair of the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, in the state and the pair held a forum with 30 Washington state agricultural leaders in Wenatchee to discuss the reauthorization of the Farm Bill.

According to the Washington State Department of Agriculture, the food processing and agriculture industries create more than 164,000 jobs in Washington State. A county-by-county breakdown is available HERE.