New report proposes more fish, less milk for USDA's WIC program
By Bill Tomson
© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.
WASHINGTON, Jan. 5, 2017 - Pregnant women, new mothers and their children would benefit from more fish, fruit and vegetables in their diets and less milk, juice and peanut products, according to a report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
The USDA's Food and Nutrition Service contracted the Academies to study its Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), a program that feeds about 8 million women and children every year. Among the conclusions of the 914-page report is that WIC-users would benefit from the food vouchers more effectively reflecting USDA's Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
“The committee that carried out the study and wrote the report recommended cost-neutral changes that include adding fish; increasing the amount of whole grains; and increasing vegetables and fruits as a trade-off for decreasing juice, milk, legumes, peanut butter, infant vegetables and fruits, and infant meats,” according to a summary of the report.
Groups representing dairy and juice producers stressed that their products are integral to the Dietary Guidelines and the WIC program, which provides about $6 billion worth of food yearly to women and children.
“The Juice Products Association is currently assessing the (report) in regards to how it will affect WIC consumers who may rely on juice to supplement their whole fruit intake,” said Diane Welland, nutrition manager for the group. “Recognized as nutritionally similar to whole fruit, 100 percent fruit juice is classified in the USDA 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans as part of the fruit group category and as a primary beverage choice.”
Jim Mulhern, president of the National Milk Producers Federation, said some of the report's conclusions didn't make sense.
“The NAS committee's recommendations would undermine the value of the WIC program to needy Americans,” Mulhern said in a statement provided to Agri-Pulse. “It's puzzling why the NAS report would both acknowledge that many WIC participants are not getting enough milk, and yet at the same time suggest further reducing the milk served through the program … The reason dairy foods are included in the WIC package is that no other food source can deliver such a wide range of vital nutrients to mothers and young children. Cutting back on dairy is a step in the wrong direction.”
But the report said that WIC vouchers are supposed to be supplemental in nature and not provide 100 percent of nutrients in certain food groups. Researchers also stressed that their recommendations reflected which types of food were over- and under-consumed.
“Foods that are currently provided in lower amounts or were consumed in lower amounts below that recommended … are increased,” the report said. It listed whole grains, vegetables, fruit and seafood as examples of the kinds of food that needed to be eaten more often.
But there was good news for the dairy industry in the report, Mulhern said.
“To its credit, the committee also made recommendations that should encourage dairy consumption by WIC participants, including continuing to allow the substitution of cheese, and expanding options for substituting yogurt, as well as making it easier for participants to purchase yogurt in popular sizes,” he said.
The report is simply a recommendation for USDA to consider and Mulhern said NMPF will also be making its case to the department.
“As the U.S. Department of Agriculture considers this report, we will be working to highlight the value to all Americans of the nutrition that only milk can provide,” he said.
The good news in the report for taxpayers is the Academies' prediction that if USDA adopts its proposals, the price tag for the feeding program will decline by $220 million from 2018 to 2022.
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