WASHINGTON — Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, declared a victory Tuesday in the potato war.

Collins won passage of legislation that allows schools to continue serving potatoes in school lunches and breakfasts without U.S. Department of Agriculture restrictions.

The amendment, added to the 2012 agriculture spending bill, says the department can’t use its money to set “maximum limits on the frequency of serving vegetables in school meal programs.”

The amendment, co-authored by Collins and Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, and backed by a bipartisan group of senators, including Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, was included by unanimous consent in the agriculture spending bill after it won the support of Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin and GOP Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the top members of the Senate Appropriation Committee’s agriculture subcommittee. Collins is a member of the appropriations committee.

The spending bill is expected to be approved this week by the Senate. It would have to be reconciled later with a House version that does not include Collins’ amendment.

“This amendment means USDA cannot proceed with a rule that would impose unnecessary and expensive new requirements affecting the servings of white potatoes, corn, green peas and lima beans,” Collins said.

Collins, who picked potatoes as a youth in Aroostook County, says the potato is a nutritious vegetable that is healthy as long as it served baked or boiled. She stressed Tuesday that her amendment preserves schools’ option for how many potatoes to serve.

Kevin Concannon, USDA under secretary for food, nutrition, and consumer services, said via email that the proposed rule would “improve the health and nutrition of our children and is based on sound science recommended by the Institute of Medicine.

“We will work with Congress to ensure that the intent of this rule is not undermined and that these historic improvements are allowed to move forward so that millions of kids across the nation will receive healthier meals,” said Concannon, a Maine native and former director of the Maine Department of Health and Human services.

Maine was the sixth-largest potato-producing state in 2010, according to the Maine Potato Board.

Farmers in the state grow about 55,000 acres of white potatoes, and sold $140 million worth in 2009, the Maine Potato Board has said.

Mainers had lined up on both sides in the potato battle.

A group of school nutrition directors said it isn’t necessary to take potatoes prepared in a healthy way out of school lunches to make meals more nutritious.

But Jonathan Shenkin, a pediatric dentist in Augusta, has said that Maine’s congressional delegation – Democratic Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree also oppose the guidelines – are ignoring scientific evidence that starchy vegetables lead to obesity and is making “more of an economic decision.”

Shenkin said Tuesday, “This is a victory for Senator Collins at the cost of children’s health.”

The issue of potato consumption and nutrition got attention earlier this year when a Harvard study found the potato to be a prime culprit in obesity. French fries and potato chips are the worst uses of the potato, but even boiled potatoes contribute to weight gain, according to the study.

Jonathan Riskind — 791-6280

[email protected]

Twitter.com/MaineTodayDC


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