Fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains may join WIC

by Staff
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WASHINGTON — The Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture has recommended the addition of fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grain products to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. But the F.N.S. also recommended reduced amounts of dairy products, eggs and juices for the program that provides seven different "food packages" worth an average of $38 a month to about 8 million children from birth to five years old and women who are up to six months postpartum or breastfeeding.

The recommendations were published in the Aug. 7 Federal Register and are open for public comment until Nov. 6.

The F.N.S. based the changes largely on 2005 recommendations from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. The changes would align WIC food packages with the U.S.D.A.’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005. The proposal would be the most sweeping revisions to WIC since its inception in 1974.

"The U.S.D.A.’s announcement is welcome news to mothers and their children who should not be deprived access to nutritious meals, including fresh fruits and vegetables in their daily diet," said Thomas Stenzel, president and chief executive officer of the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association.

The I.O.M. recommended monthly allocation for fresh produce of $10 for women and $8 for eligible children. The U.S.D.A. proposal reduced the amounts to $8 for women and $6 for children in an effort to keep the program cost neutral.

"The goal of the proposal is to maximize the program’s nutrition profile without increasing costs," said Kathy Means, vice-president of government relations for the Produce Marketing Association. "Cutting costs, at the expense of good nutrition, is not a balanced trade-off to the program’s purpose of providing supplementary nutrition to participants."

The P.M.A. supports the higher levels for produce recommended by the I.O.M. and encourages the U.S.D.A. and state agencies to contain costs in other areas.

Baking groups applauded the F.N.S. proposal for following the new Dietary Guidelines in recommending up to three servings of whole grains to a maximum of 1 lb a month for women and 2 lbs for children. But the bakers also criticized the proposal for not including enriched bread products, especially bread fortified with folic acid, which has been shown to be beneficial for pregnant women, one of the at-risk groups served by the WIC program.

The dairy industry expressed concern about the recommended cuts in milk and cheese in the program. The cuts were made in part to contain costs of the revised food packages, the U.S.D.A. said.

"We’re disappointed that budgetary constraints are leading the U.S.D.A. to a decision to cut the amount of dairy foods available to some of our neediest Americans," said Jerry Kozak, president and chief executive officer of the National Milk Producers Federation.

"In its 2005 Dietary Guidelines, the U.S.D.A. recognized the need for women and children to get more calcium, potassium and magnesium in their diets; this proposal moves us in the opposite direction," said Connie Tipton, president and chief executive officer of the International Dairy Foods Association. "There is a very real negative nutritional effect that a reduction in dairy servings would have on program participants."

Changes to the infant food packages, depending on age, were intended to encourage breastfeeding, increase certain nutrients, whole grains and non-starchy vegetables while reducing saturated fat, cholesterol and added sugar.

For women, the changes were intended to allow greater cultural choices, increase certain nutrients, whole grains, fruit, non-starchy vegetables and low-fat milk while reducing sodium, food energy and total fat, the F.N.S. said.

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