Of Florida’s nearly 400,000 participants of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, only about 30,000 of them could buy fresh fruits and vegetables through the program, said John Harrison, operations manager for the Florida Department of Health’s Florida WIC program.
They have been getting fresh produce through the WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program, which only covers participants in 15 counties in North Florida.
But fresh produce could become available to all the state’s WIC participants, and it would be a boon for Florida growers with crops destined for the fresh market.
On Aug. 7, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service, Washington, D.C., proposed to update the WIC program and allow $8 a month for women and $6 a month for children for any variety of fresh whole or cut fruit or vegetables, except white potatoes, without added sugars. According to the USDA, the changes are meant to align the food packages with the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the current infant feeding practice guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Produce industry groups, including the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del., are applauding the inclusion of fresh produce.
But will the inclusion come at a price? It may, especially for Florida growers with crops destined for the processed market since the proposal reduces the amount of juice WIC women and children can purchase. It also eliminates juice for infants altogether.
The amount of Florida juice purchased through the WIC program is unknown. After calls to several state agencies, no one seems to track it. Harrison said WIC clients can purchase 46-ounce containers of apple, grape, grapefruit, orange, orange-grapefruit, pineapple, tomato, Juicy Juice or V8 vegetable juice. They also can buy frozen concentrate apple, grapefruit or orange juice. But he said the state agency has no way of knowing the brands of the juice.
It could take years to realize how the reduction in juice allowances could affect Florida juice producers, but the possible negative effect might be masked by the increased sales of fresh produce. Only time will tell.