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WIC changes food in package

By William K. Alcorn

Friday, December 7, 2007

Reduction of milk products in the WIC diet is both good and bad news for Northeast Ohio farmers.



YOUNGSTOWN — A local WIC official welcomes the new WIC food package that includes more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and fewer dairy and egg products.

“We are very excited about the new diet. It gives a more balance to the WIC food package,” said Nancy Dailey, director of the Columbiana/Portage WIC program.

WIC, technically the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is the third-largest food and nutrition assistance program in the country. WIC serves some 8 million participants per month, including almost half of all infants born in the U.S. The program costs were about $5 billion in fiscal 2006, according to the USDA Web site.

The new WIC food package went into effect Thursday.

Joseph Logan of Gustavus, president of the Ohio Farmers Union, said the reduction of milk products in the WIC diet is both good and bad news economically for farmers in Northeast Ohio.

But, it makes great nutritional sense, he said.

“Americans are fortunate to have an abundance of food, but the by-product of that abundance is obesity. Animal-based products generally have more nutrient density. What we need is more fiber and grain,” he said.

Logan acknowledged that while farmers adjust their production to the market, there will be some financial pain. However, he said, “we have confidence that our industry will adapt. If they do that, and farm scientifically, they will survive,” he said.

Additionally, Logan said the animal agriculture segment has been deteriorating in Northeast Ohio in favor of grain, which is raised mainly for animal consumption. Also, he said there is a rapidly growing market for fresh fruits and vegetables.

Dailey said her WIC program, which serves 6,000 clients a month, has participated in the state-sponsored Summer Farmers Market Nutrition Program for several years. Under the program, WIC clients shop at farmers markets for fresh fruits and vegetables.

Under the new diet guidelines for WIC, clients will be able to buy fresh fruit and vegetables year-round at their grocery stores. The new guidelines provide a little more balanced diet and could help battle obesity, Dailey said.

She noted that the WIC food package hasn’t changed since it was developed about 30 years ago.

According to USDA, WIC food packages were initially designed to include foods rich in nutrients, which were often lacking in the diets of low-income participants.

Not every group is happy with the change, however.

Jerry Kozak, president and chief executive of the National Milk Producers Federation, said he is disappointed in the dairy cuts.

It is not clear how great the impact on the dairy industry will be, but a spokesman stressed that the WIC food packages will still contain dairy products. They were only reduced from four to three servings, said Mike Sieminski, a registered dietitian with the American Dairy Association Mid East office in Columbus.

He said USDA’s 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, upon which the new WIC food package is based, still recognizes the importance of dairy products.

The USDA guidelines recommend three servings of milk products a day for adults and two servings a day for children under 5 for bone health, he said.

Sieminski said dairy products provide four of the seven “nutrients of concern” for adults — Vitamin A, calcium, magnesium and potassium — and three of the five nutrients of concern for children — calcium, magnesium and potassium. Nutrients of concern are those of which people don’t always get enough, he said.

Jim Chakeres, executive vice president of the Ohio Poultry Association, thinks what has been overlooked in the process is that eggs are a high-quality, inexpensive source of protein.