Dairy industry shares frustration over proposed WIC changes

Senior leadership from the International Dairy Foods Association and National Milk Producers Federation met Tuesday with top officials in USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service to share concerns about the agency’s proposed cuts to Women, Infants and Children benefits for milk and dairy purchases.

Matt Herrick, IDFA’s senior vice president, public affairs & communication, told Agri-Pulse that FNS officials were interested in the information IDFA presented, including a new poll of 534 WIC participants showing 20% ​​would choose not to re-enroll in the program should USDA follow through with its proposed cuts. The online survey by Morning Consult was conducted Dec. 14-16.

“We were grateful for (USDA’s) time and attentiveness to share our deep concerns related to the proposed rule,” Herrick added.

USDA proposed revisions to the WIC program last month that would reduce the current WIC lotment by two to six quarts. The maximum monthly allowance (MMA) for children 12 months to 23 months is currently 16 quarts but would be reduced to 12 quarts under the proposed rule, and children 2-4 years old would have a two-quart reduction from 16 quarts to 14 quarts .

Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers would see a reduction of six quarts, from 22 quarts in the current allotment to 16 quarts under the proposed rule.

Participant Category

Current WIC Allotment

USDA Proposed Rule MMA for Milk

+/- Proposed Rule Compared to Current Rule

Children 1 year old

(12 through 23 months)

16 quarts

12 quarts

-4 quarts

Children 2 through 4 years old

16 quarts

14 quarts

-2 quarts

Pregnant

22 quarts

16 quarts

-6 quarts

Partially (Mostly) & Fully Breastfeeding

22 quarts

16 quarts

-6 quarts

Postpartum

16 quarts

16 quarts

No change

The proposed rule also provides more non-dairy substitution options such as soy-based yogurts and cheeses – and requires lactose-free milk to be offered. The changes also add more flexibility in the amount of formula provided to partially breastfed infants to support individual breastfeeding goals, the agency said.

The proposed changes also eliminate cheese from the fully breastfeeding participants’ food packages, although it would continue to allow it as a substitution option for milk in all of the children and women’s food packages.

In an email statement to Agri-PulseJim Mulhern, NMPF president and CEO, said the proposed changes “could help increase access to nutritious foods for WIC participants, but others could unfortunately decrease access to vital nutrients.”

Mulhern added dairy foods are among the highest redeemed foods in the WIC program, with three of the top five redeemed items in WIC identified as dairy products.

IDFA 76% of WIC participants surveyed stated they are concerned with the USDA proposal, while another 35% said they need to use non-WIC funds to cover purchases of milk and dairy. The reduction in WIC benefits will make shopping for milk and dairy products more difficult for 26% of those surveyed, IDFA reported.

“Reducing WIC benefits for milk and dairy will make life harder for millions of women, new mothers, infants and children at a challenging time of high food costs and rising food insecurity,” said Michael Dykes, president and CEO of IDFA.

Dykes said USDA’s proposal “flies in the face” of current dietary guidelines where 90% of consumers are not consuming enough dairy to meet daily requirements. “USDA must reverse course and find ways to improve program participation by encouraging the purchase of nutritious dairy products rather than penalizing low-income moms and families during tough economic conditions,” he said.

Mulhern said NMPF is concerned the proposed changes could decrease the amount of dairy WIC participants can access through the program and impact WIC’s popularity among recipients.

“If WIC food packages become less attractive to program participants, overall program participation could decline as well,” Mulhern warned. “These unintended, yet serious, consequences are contrary to the administration’s goal of helping all Americans meeting the dietary guidelines recommendations for nutritious foods.”

For more news, visit www.Agri-Pulse.com.

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