At the last minute, the Montana Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program has backed away from a plan to cut organic products from its list of approved foods. The cost-saving measure was scheduled to go into effect Dec. 1, but state WIC director Joan Bowsher said Nov. 30 that officials put it on hold in response to widespread concern.
“We got feedback from a lot of people who had concerns about this decision,” says Bowsher. “There always is a lot of interest in making sure we supply the healthiest food possible for this high-risk targeted population that we serve.”
WIC food packages are available to low-income women who are pregnant or have young children, and more than 4,000 people in Missoula County and Flathead counties, among 22,000 statewide, rely on the program. In recent years, Montana WIC has struggled to manage the rising cost of food in the face of flat federal funding. Since 2006, the price of eggs has increased 80 percent, milk 23 percent and cheese 17 percent. And while cutting back organics may have saved some money, Bowsher says it’s not enough.
“Our overall budget dilemma goes far beyond organic foods,” she says. “Although removing organic foods would save the program some money, it’s difficult to calculate exactly how much. So, for the time being, we’re going to step back and study the issue further.”
Organic products may have won a temporary reprieve, but on March 1 officials plan to require WIC participants to begin buying the least expensive options in grocery stores, which will almost certainly rule out organic items. While it’s not a popular change, Bowsher says it’s one that’s already been made across the nation.
“As far as I know we are one of the very last states to go to the least expensive option,” she says. “And we are one of very few if not the only one to still allow organic products in the program.”