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WIC thwarts natural women

Organic groceries will be cut from the shopping lists of Montana mothers who rely on food packages from the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program starting Dec. 1.

Rapidly rising food costs have forced Montana WIC officials to choose between limiting the number of people enrolled in the program or limiting what products they can buy, says Jan Bowsher, Montana WIC director. And while dropping organics from the WIC program has “appalled” mothers, according to Missoula County Nutrition Services Supervisor Mary Pittaway, other upcoming changes will limit shoppers’ options further.

“We’re making some hard decisions and trying to stretch our food dollars as far as we can,” says Jan Bowsher, Montana WIC Director. “People may feel like we’re picking on organic food shoppers, but it’s just the first of a number of steps.”

She explains that WIC food packages are available to qualifying women and their children in the form of checks exchangeable at grocery stores for a set list of items such as milk, eggs, cereal and cheese. Until now, women have been able to exercise discretion over which brands they choose, but starting in December, all organic products will be excluded from the program. Then beginning in March, WIC shoppers will have to choose the least expensive products on the shelves.

About 22,000 people receive food through Montana’s WIC program each month, including about 2,700 in Missoula County, Pittaway says. And with the cost of food staples rapidly rising—Bowsher says the price of eggs has risen 80 percent and milk has increased 23 percent over the last year—those WIC dollars aren’t going as far as they once did.

Pittaway acknowledges the exclusion of organic foods has caused frustration locally, but says, “We’re not making a statement about one being better than the other—we’re just saying we can’t afford it.” Organic products cost between two and four times as much as standard products, she says, and while “we believe we know organic food choices are better, they’re not four times better.”

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