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USDA WIC proposal decreases access to dairy

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Dairy industry disappointed agency would limit purchase of nutritious dairy foods.

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service announced proposed changes to the foods prescribed to participants in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC. The “science-based” revisions incorporate recommendations from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025.

“USDA is committed to advancing maternal and child health through WIC, helping mothers, babies and young kids thrive,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “These proposed changes will strengthen WIC – already an incredibly powerful program – by ensuring it provides foods that reflect the latest nutrition science to support healthy eating and bright futures.”

The proposed revisions support fruit and vegetable consumption by increasing the amount provided and the varieties available for purchase. Congress previously implemented a significant but temporary boost to the benefit provided to WIC participants for purchasing fruits and vegetables. FNS proposes making that increase permanent, providing participants with up to four times the amount they would otherwise receive. FNS also proposed revisions that give participants a greater variety of fruits and veggies to choose from and adjust the quantity of juice to reflect nutrition guidance, which emphasizes whole fruits and vegetables.

Other proposed changes include, but are not limited to:

  • Reducing the amount of dairy recommended from 85% to 128% currently provided to 71% to 96%.
  • Expanding whole grain options to include foods like quinoa, blue cornmeal, and teff to reflect dietary guidance and accommodate individual or cultural preferences.
  • Providing more non-dairy substitution options such as soy-based yogurts and cheeses – and requiring lactose-free milk to be offered.
  • Including canned fish in more food packages, creating more equitable access to this under-consumed food.
  • Requiring canned beans to be offered in addition to dried.
  • Adding more flexibility in the amount of formula provided to partially breastfed infants to support individual breastfeeding goals.

Dairy industry disappointed

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) called the proposed changes “unfortunate” for WIC participants as it would decrease access to dairy products and the unique nutrient profile they provide, “especially considering the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) note that a staggering nearly 90% of the U.S. population does not consume enough dairy to meet dietary recommendations.”

“At a time of rising food costs and high food insecurity, we should focus on increasing access to a wide variety of healthful, nutrient-dense, and affordable foods, including both fresh produce and dairy products. It’s disappointing that the proposed rule would limit WIC family purchasing power for nutritious dairy foods, particularly at a time like this,” the groups stated.

They pointed out that the vast body of nutrition science demonstrates that nutritious dairy products like milk, yogurt, cheese, and cottage cheese are especially important in the diets of women, infants, and children. “Dairy is a source of 13 nutrients, including three of the four nutrients of public health concern as noted by the DGA, which is why dairy has always played a significant role in the WIC program.”

NMPF and IDFA commended USDA for suggesting approaches to make the nutrient-dense food provided by the WIC program more accessible, including expanded options for yogurt and cheese varieties and for proposing WIC participants be able to purchase these dairy products in a wider variety of product package sizes that are more commonly found in grocery stores. They also applauded USDA for its continued commitment to nutritional equivalency in substitute products, rejecting those that do not provide an equivalent nutrition package, as recommended by the DGA.

“We look forward to working with USDA to modernize the WIC food package for eligible families to access nutrient-dense milk, yogurt, and cheese varieties that are a part of their everyday diets and accessible in neighborhood stores, thus fulfilling the program’s nutritional objectives.”

IDFA, NMPF, and its members will advocate against reducing the amount of nutritious dairy foods provided through WIC in USDA’s final rule.

“We hope USDA will work to achieve these same objectives as they develop a final WIC rule, which, given dairy’s unique nutrient package and incomparable role in nourishing WIC participants, will require USDA not to decrease access to dairy in the WIC program.”

New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik also condemned the proposed rule, calling it “deeply flawed.”

“The Biden Administration’s proposal to restrict the amount of milk available to WIC participants is wrong, especially at a time when 90% of Americans are not consuming enough dairy to meet nutrition standards,” she said. “In addition, this administration is shamefully further restricting milk choice for families and keeping the door open for more forced vegan juice consumption.”

She continued, “Upstate dairy farmers work hard to provide delicious and nutritious products for families in New York and across the nation, and this proposed rule is a slap in the face to their important work.”

 

TAGS: Policy
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