Finding support among state agencies and other advocates, the United Fresh Produce Association is recommending that fruits and vegetables in Women Infants and Children food packages should be increased.
Lorelei DiSogra, United Fresh’s vice president of nutrition and health, presented testimony April 1 to the Institutes of Medicine’s National Academy of Sciences WIC Food Package Review Committee. The committee is conducting a scientific review of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s WIC food packages.
Ten years ago, the National Academy of Sciences was involved in the April 2005 recommendation to improve the WIC food package by adding a cash value fruit and vegetable voucher for mothers and children. Before then, there hadn’t been changes to the WIC food packages in 30 years, DiSogra said. Those recommendations were translated into policy changes by 2009.
Currently, more than 8.2 million WIC mothers and children benefit from receiving $11/month and $8/month, respectively, for fruits and vegetables, according to a news release from United Fresh. Even so, the release said WIC participants still consume less fruits and vegetables than federal guidelines recommend for good health. United Fresh believes the shortfall can be addressed by increasing the value of the fruit/vegetable cash value voucher for WIC participants, according to the release. 
The 2010 child nutrition reauthorization bill required the USDA to perform a scientific review of the WIC food packages every ten years to ensure that the food packages match federal Dietary Guidelines for Americas, DiSogra said. The WIC program is the only federal nutrition program that is required by law to conduct a scientific review every ten years, she said.
DiSogra said the recommendations of United Fresh, delivered at the NAS Campus in Irvine, Calif., were consistent with and reinforced by the testimony of WIC state agencies who gave input to the committee. DiSogra said the recommendations of United Fresh also were developed in collaboration with the National WIC Association.
“What I was happy about was that at the scientific meeting on March 31, several speakers mentioned the importance of increasing fruits and vegetables,” she said. One of the criteria of the review is that the committee has to keep any changes revenue neutral, and DiSogra said several state WIC directors told the committee they want to replace juice and jarred baby food with whole fruits and vegetables. “Everybody wanted to increase the value of the fruit and vegetable voucher,” DiSogra said. “We were very supported in what we are doing.”
United Fresh recommended the WIC Food Package Review Committee:
  • Increase the value of the fruit/vegetable cash value voucher to $12/month for breastfeeding mothers;
  • For infants 9-11 months, allow states the option to replace all jarred infant fruits and vegetables with a cash value voucher for fruits/vegetables;
  • For mothers and children, allow states the option to fully or partially replace the juice benefit with a cash value voucher for fruits/vegetables; 
  • For children, increase the value of the fruit/vegetable cash value voucher to at least $10/month;
  • Allow WIC participants to benefit from incentives that would help them double their fruit/vegetable cash value voucher purchases; and 
  • Allow states the option to continue to use the fruit/vegetable cash value voucher for only fresh produce.
DiSogra said there will be one more scientific meeting related to the WIC food package review in June in Washington, D.C. After the final report is issued — no later than January 2017 — the USDA is charged with using the committee’s recommendations to change the WIC food packages, DiSogra said.
Many nutrition advocates are urging the WIC food package review committee to complete the review by the end of the year, in advance of the transition between administrations.
“It is going to be up to the next president and the next administration (to make changes in WIC food packages), but we will be able to use that (WIC food package review) report to drive those policy changes,” DiSogra said.