Rule revising WIC food packages includes whole grains

by Josh Sosland
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WASHINGTON — The inclusion of whole wheat bread in a government food assistance program is being celebrated by the baking industry.

The change was part of an interim final rule revising food packages provided by the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), marking the first such revision in nearly three decades. Plans for the program had been under consideration for more than two years. Details were published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the Dec. 6 Federal Register.

"We’re pleased to announce today that the new food packages, based on the Dietary Guidelines, will include fruits, vegetables and whole grains, which are essential to a healthier diet," said Chuck Conner, acting U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. "The addition of these foods better reflects the needs of over 8 million low-income mothers and children in the WIC program. The new food packages are designed to improve the nutrition and health of our nation’s low-income pregnant women, new mothers, infants and young children with nutrition education and more fruits, vegetables and whole grains to greatly improve dietary quality."

As proposed earlier, the addition of whole grain cereals and bread, baby foods and fruits and vegetables was offset in the interim guidelines by reductions in milk, juice and eggs.

Changes in the interim rule from the proposed rule include adding to the definition of whole grain that the primary ingredient by weight must be a whole grain. The grain-based foods industry had sought to replace the 51% requirement with a minimum of 8 grams of whole grains per serving. The rule requires that at least half the total number of breakfast cereals on a state’s authorized food list meet the whole grain requirement.

Comments on the interim final rule will be accepted until Feb. 1, 2010, or 180 days after the implementation deadline. The comment period is intended to be long enough to allow comments "based on actual implementation of the requirements."

Baking industry groups were generally pleased with the new rule.

"This is exciting in that it allows for loaf sizes of less than 2 lbs," said John Popp, chairman of the Independent Bakers Association.

Lee Sanders, senior vice-president of government relations and public affairs at the American Bakers Association, expressed disappointment over the Department’s decision not to include enriched grain products, fortified with folic acid, in packages targeting pregnant women.

"We will consider addressing further comments on the interim final rules to express our disappointment," Ms. Sanders said.

Mr. Popp described the omission of the enriched grains for expectant mothers as "unfortunate."

"This is tempered by great news that the WIC program will allow the 8.5 million participants to try and enjoy whole grain breads every month," he said.

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