This week, as Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) puts forth the proposed renewed Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill to the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA) along with other members of the National Organic Coalition (NOC) urges the Senate to renew the Women, Infants, Children Program (WIC) with language that insists upon the inclusion of organic foods in WIC approved food lists.
WIC provides federal grants to States allowing the distribution of supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education to low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.
Currently, each state creates approved lists of foods, typically determined by brand name, that meet predetermined nutritional, pricing and quality criteria. However, many states include explicit prohibitions on access to organic foods within the WIC approved food list used to guide WIC recipients in their food purchases, regardless of the products’ merits and adherence to criteria.
The growing body of peer-reviewed research demonstrates the human health and environmental benefits of organic food and farming practices. Therefore,NCGA and other industry leaders strongly believe that all sectors of society should have access to organic foods, particularly the nutritionally at-risk mothers, infants and children who are the recipients of WIC program benefits.
“Many co-ops and natural food stores across the country want to meet the needs of their communities, including families that rely on WIC,” said Robynn Shrader, chief executive officer for NCGA. “By allowing states to prohibit nutritious and organic purchases, WIC limits the benefit it can provide people who need WIC’s assistance most. Right now, the Senate must seize the opportunity to give WIC recipients equal access to healthy foods.”
Many natural foods retailers and others retailers who specialize in organic food and beverage sales are limited from fully serving WIC recipients in their communities due to limitations on organic foods and the bias in favor of conventional brands. These retailers are eager for the opportunity to serve WICrecipients in their stores, and many would be willing to discuss price accommodations for these customers, if provided that flexibility.
However, the firm prohibition of many State WIC food lists regarding certain organic products greatly limits WIC recipients’ access to the highly nutritious offering in these stores, even if the cost differences relative to conventional brands and retailers could be accommodated.
NCGA requests the inclusion of a provision in the Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill to prohibit States from restricting access to organic foods as part of theWIC basic food instrument, similar to a 2007 prohibition issued by FNS with regard to the WIC Fruit and Vegetable voucher program.
At a time when Congress and the Administration are seeking to expand access of at-risk populations to nutritious food options in their communities, the limitations in WIC program for organic foods, and the barriers to access of WIC recipients to natural and organic food retailers is counter-productive and counter-intuitive.
While the bill is under consideration by the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, citizens can write or call their state senators to ask that the Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill urge the inclusion of organics within the WIC program. To find contact information for state senators, visithttp://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm.