The Women, Infants, and Children program provides food aid 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,” according to the USDA website.
The federal government funds the program through grants to states, which then decide how to allocate the cash. Evidently, in Michigan — a state undergoing severe economic strain — some bureaucrats have bought into the whole notion that organic food is a luxury for the elite.
Check out this extraordinary document [PDF]. It lists product after product available to Michigan WIC recipients — milk, eggs, carrots, tuna, cheese, boxed cereal, dried beans, peanut butter. And following each one, these words: “No organic allowed.” (Never mind that organic tuna doesn’t exist.)
Mothers using WIC in Michigan have to be especially careful about eggs. Avoiding organic eggs is only the beginning. Other no-nos include ones that are free-range, cage-free, or enhanced with Omega-3-rich feed. And get this: The eggs have to be white!
There’s no end to it. Milk sold in reusable glass containers, or that’s not homogenized (a process that may cause heart damage)? Forget about it. Milk from the heirloom Guernsey cow breed, said to be richer in calcium, protein, and vitamin A? Put it back, Mom.
If all that weren’t enough, there are some weird anomalies. The document lists a few things that apparently can be bought organic, including “46 oz. unsweetened juices” and “frozen concentrate juices.” Neither one bears the “no organic” edict.
But scroll down a bit to the “infant juices” category, and there it is again, in all its officious glory: “No organic allowed.” Mothers are also forbidden from buying organic infant formula and cereal. (To be be fair, the program does encourage breast-feeding, but that option isn’t always viable, as in the case of adoption and foster-parenting.)
Do these people figure that kids need a bit of pesticide residue in their fare to toughen ’em up for what’s to come?
The “no organic” policy may not even be saving Michigan’s WIC program much money. In a posting appearing on the Community Food Security Coalition‘s Comfood listserve, Diana Jancek, Market Manager of the Sweetwater Local Foods Market in Montague, Mich., did some price comparison in a supermarket. Here’s what she found:
Allowed: Frosted Mini-Wheats (first three ingredients: whole grain wheat, sugar, high fructose corn syrup) Price: $3.63/18 oz.
Not Allowed: Meijer Organic Raisin Brain (all organic, no corn syrup) Price: 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 lb. $1.30
Not Allowed: Fresh organic carrots, 1 lb. $0.99
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
It almost seems punitive on the face of it; these are after all the most at-risk children in our population and we want to restrict their access to foods free of chemicals in their formative years?
It also bears adding that WIC-approved Jif peanut butter includes among its ingredients partially hydrogenated vegetable oil vegetable oil. This so-called “trans fat,” designed to add “creaminess,” have been shown to cause severe heart damage as well as diabetes.
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.
For instructions on how to comment, go here [PDF].
Note: This post has been modified to correct an error pointed out in comments by Katakanadian below. Fully hydrogenated oil, while a highly processed ingredient, is not a trans-fat. I regret the error, and appreciate the correction.