Students break down 50-pound bags of potatoes for Thanksgiving baskets at Gardiner Area High School in November. Maine’s congressional delegation is fighting an attempt to reclassify the crop as a grain instead of a vegetable. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal, file

Maine’s congressional delegation has taken action to defend and promote potatoes – the state’s top food crop – across U.S. and overseas markets.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, an organic farmer and member of the House Agriculture Committee, is co-leading a bipartisan effort to address fears that an independent committee reviewing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans may move potatoes from the vegetable category to the grain category.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack and Health & Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Pingree and 28 other members of Congress voiced strong opposition to the potential reclassification, saying it would “call the scientific credibility of the entire process into question.”

“Since the inception of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it has classified potatoes correctly as a vegetable,” the letter reads. “There is no debate about the physical characteristics of the potato and its horticultural scientific classification.”

Reclassification also would defy a 2013 National Library of Medicine study, which found that “potatoes should be included in the vegetable group because they contribute critical nutrients,” the letter says.

A medium baked potato contains 15% of dietary fiber, 27% of vitamin B6 and 28% of vitamin C recommended daily, the letter said, and potatoes have more potassium than bananas, a fruit commonly identified as being high in that nutrient.


“Any change to potatoes’ current classification … would immediately confuse consumers, retailers, restaurant operators, growers and indeed the entire supply chain,” the letter stated. It also could make it difficult for schools to meet federal vegetable consumption recommendations.

The dietary guidelines under review would be effective from 2025 to 2030.

Rep. Jared Golden, D-2nd District, also signed the letter.

Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine, were among 14 senators who sent a similar letter last month.

Collins and King also joined a bipartisan effort last week to encourage Japan to import more potatoes from the $100 billion U.S. potato industry.

They were among 10 senators who signed a letter to President Biden, urging him to press Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to open his country’s markets to U.S. fresh potatoes.


While Japan imports $1.3 billion in American-grown potatoes, its agricultural ministry has created unnecessary roadblocks for American potato exports, resulting in a $150 million loss to U.S. potato growers, the letter said.

The letter followed Kishida’s visit to Washington last week and his address to a joint session of Congress.

About 20% of U.S. potato crops are exported, contributing nearly $4.8 billion to the domestic economy and supporting nearly 34,000 jobs nationally and 6,500 in Maine, the senators said.

Maine is among the top 10 potato-growing states, planting 53,000 acres in 2023 and harvesting 17.8 million pounds worth $292 million, according to the USDA.

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