The purported mission of the USDA’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program is to provide “nutritious foods, nutrition education, and referrals to health and other social services” to mothers and children in need. The $6 billion WIC program is administered by the states to assist over 8 million people each year. But as a local farmers market manager has discovered, the Michigan Department of Community Health has decided that “nutritious foods” means a ban on organic foods, evidently in a misguided effort to save money.
The Michigan WIC Food Card says “No organic allowed” after nearly every food item — milk, eggs, dry beans, peanut butter, carrots, tuna, cereal, juice, cheese, infant juice, infant formula, and infant cereal. Honey Bunches of Oats, Frosted Mini-Wheats, and other corn-syrup-sweetened cereals are allowed, while organic cereals are not. Cage-free, free-range, Omega-3, and low-cholesterol eggs are also banned. No organic tuna is allowed, even though there is no such thing.
Diana Jancek, co-founder of the Sweetwater Local Foods Market, Michigan’s first all-sustainable local farmers market reported her discovery to a local listserv. In her message, which was also forwarded to the Community Food Security Coalition’s food security mailing list, she describes what she found when she went to the local Meijer supermarket with the flyer:
Allowed: Frosted Mini-Wheats (first three ingredients Whole Grain Wheat, Sugar, High Fructose Corn Syrup), 18 oz. — $3.63
Not Allowed: Meijer Organic Raisin Brain (all organic, no corn syrup), 17 oz. — $2.99
Allowed: Jif Peanut Butter, 18 oz. — $2.18
Not Allowed: Meijer Organic Peanut Butter, 18 oz. — $2.59
Allowed: Fresh Conventional Carrots, 1 pound — $1.30
Not Allowed: Fresh Organic Carrots, 1 pound — $.99
Allowed: Conventional White Eggs — $1.69
Not Allowed: Conventional Brown Eggs — $1.89
Allowed: V8 Tomato Juice, 46 oz. — $2.79
Not Allowed: Organic Tomato Juice, 46 oz. — $2.99
Ironically, Michigan has participated since 1988 in the USDA Farmers Market Nutrition Program, which allows WIC participants to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables — without a “no organic” restriction — at local farmers markets like the one Diana Jancek runs. Unfortunately, each participant is only given a single $20 voucher booklet for the entire year.
UPDATE: Tom Philpott at Gristmill notes that the approved Jif peanut butter includes partially and fully hydrogenated vegetable fats, shown to cause severe heart damage as well as diabetes. He writes:
For those who don’t think low-income mothers should be nudged to make such choices, no matter what state they live in, Martha Noble of the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition points out that the USDA’s Food & Nutrition Service is currently taking public comments on 2009 reauthorization of several child-nutrition programs, including WIC.