A reader asked me to find out the scoop as to why WIC (not food stamps) does not allow Organic food to be purchased by its participants. Here is an answer with supporting info from the National program. This is the response from Ruth Blackburn: Farm to School Project Coordinator.
Having worked with WIC in the past perhaps I can clarify the problem. WIC, unlike food stamps, is not based on a debit card that allows for a variety of food purchases. WIC specifies the foods that may be purchased and often specifies by brand especially with cereal in order to try to hold costs more steady (this has its own set of problems and politics that could be addressed at another time). Here are the national guidelines: http://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/benefitsandservices/foodpkg.HTM
As you can see they are broad for most categories. Since the money comes to the states in lump sums, each state can then place limits on the specific food items that can be allowed. In Michigan, authorities decided that one way to reduce individual costs and thus serve more people is to restrict the purchase of organics. The problem is that in season and in some stores the organic products are less expensive and thus should not be restricted just because they are organic.
Diane provided good examples of this with carrots. Florida also restricts organics but they also state that the participant must purchase the least expensive item in the category: http://www.doh.state.fl.us/family/wic/Documents/flwic_foods/flwic_foods_eng.pdf
I believe that this should be the only restriction because that is really the point. If each participant chooses the least expensive item, the goal of cost containment to spread the dollars to the most people possible is achieved. I believe this is the point we need to make with the state WIC authorities. Restricting organic makes no sense in that context.
Ruth Blackburn, MPH, RD
Farm to School Project Coordinator
Food System Economic Partnership (FSEP)
Fowarded by :
Organic Vegetable and Crop Outreach Specialist
Michigan State University
C.S. Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems
303 Natural Resources Bldg.
East Lansing, MI 48824
For information on organic agriculture production please visit: http://www.MichiganOrganic.msu.edu/
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