WASHINGTON – Following the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) release of its final rule on revisions to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) expressed their disappointment in the cuts to dairy in WIC food packages.

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) announced April 9 its final updates to WIC, sharing that the science-based revisions took into account recommendations from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 

Michael Dykes, president and chief executive officer for IDFA, pointed out the final rule cuts the amount of milk that can be purchased by up to 3 gallons per family per month. Dykes added that the WIC revisions harm nutrition security “by disregarding the Dietary Guidelines’ findings that dairy items in the WIC food package are under-consumed.”

IDFA and NMPF noted that milk, cheese and yogurt are three of the five top items redeemed through WIC, adding those dairy products also provide three of the four nutrients of public health concern identified in the 2020 guidelines.

Said Dykes: “IDFA has polled WIC participants and 35% say they will need to use non-WIC funds to cover purchases of milk and dairy due to these cuts. Another 33% say the cuts will make their shopping for milk and dairy products harder. Some may decide not to reenroll in WIC because of the cuts. Partners like state WIC agencies, local health clinics and anti-hunger groups will be forced to explain USDA’s WIC cuts to 6 million low-income mothers and children under the age of five.”

NMPF and IDFA called WIC “a vital program ensuring that pregnant women, new mothers, infants, and children have access to key nutrients that may be lacking in their diets,” and said decreasing the amount of dairy prescribed to WIC participants decreases the nutrients they are accessing.

Gregg Doud, NMPF president and CEO, said the organization’s members were “disturbed” by the decision to reduce access to dairy’s essential nutrients.

“Nutrition science demonstrates that dairy products like milk, yogurt and cheese are especially important for women, infants and children; meanwhile, nearly 90% of Americans don’t meet the number of dairy servings recommended by the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” Doud said. “This rule works against the WIC program’s goal of ensuring all Americans have consistent and equitable access to healthy, safe and affordable foods.”

Doud added: “At a time of rising food costs, it‘s important to focus on increasing access to a wide variety of healthful, nutrient-dense and affordable foods, including both fresh produce and dairy products. It’s disappointing that the final rule limits WIC family purchasing power for nutritious dairy foods.”

FNS said some of the enhancements to WIC food packages incorporated “providing more convenience and options within the dairy category, including flexibility on package sizes and non-dairy substitution options, such as plant-based yogurts and cheeses, and requiring lactose-free milk to be available.”

IDFA and NMPF said the additions of lactose-free milk and new flexibility for yogurt and cheese in the final rule were appreciated. Dykes said IDFA worked for many years to make it possible for WIC participants to swap a portion of their milk allotment for portions of yogurt totaling up to 32 oz, rather than a single 32 oz tub.

“With that change in place, WIC participants will have greater access to nutrient-dense foods that help participants meet the program’s nutrient recommendations,” Dykes said. “We look forward to the opportunity to collaborate with USDA to encourage states to fully utilize the rule’s provisions that expand options for yogurt and cheese, and to mitigate the cuts to milk benefits.”

FNS in 2022 proposed changes to foods offered by WIC, citing the need to align with the latest nutrition science. The agency said improvements to the program included supporting fruit and vegetable consumption, expanded whole grain options, putting canned fish in more packages, required canned beans to be offered, and added flexibility to the amount of infant formula provided.

“For the 6.6 million moms, babies and young children who participate in WIC – and the millions more eligible to participate – these improvements to our food packages have the potential to make positive, life-long impacts on health and well-being,” said Food and Nutrition Service Administrator Cindy Long.