Wisconsin Bill Would Treat Organic Milk, Sharp Cheddar, Brown Eggs as "Junk Food"

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Wisconsin ranks 44th in the nation for new job creation. Rather than rolling up their sleeves and finding new and innovative ways to help create jobs, the Wisconsin legislature is spending its time telling people needing food assistance what they should be eating. AB 110, which will be up for a vote in the Assembly on Tuesday, May 7, is geared toward limiting "the amount of food stamp benefits that could be spent on junk food." But some of the fine print of the bill, bizarrely, would ban people from choosing more healthy and less expensive options for their families. The bill is one of many being considered that are unduly punitive of the poor.

Restricting Access to Organic and Other Whole Foods

WIC EggsAs of March 2013, 858,000 Wisconsinites receive FoodShare benefits. The bill, AB 110, would limit FoodShare, Wisconsin's food stamp program funded through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). As the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has reported, Governor Scott Walker has already proposed to require all "able-bodied adults" who receive food stamps (and don't have dependent children) to train or search for work in order to continue receiving those benefits. This even though Walker has failed to create the 250,000 jobs he promised when running for office in 2010.

Now Representative Dean Kaufert (R-Neenah) is sponsoring another bill to further limit FoodShare. Kaufert told the Wisconsin Radio Network that the bill would make it so that a benefit recipient "can't buy six bags of nachos and four cases of soda."

Specifically, the amended program would allow only a third of an individual's FoodShare benefits to be spent on a full range of food as they currently can be. The remaining two-thirds would be subject to the same restrictions as the federal Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutritional program, with some small modifications. (Both programs, of course, bar restaurant food, cigarettes, alcohol, and pet foods.)

WIC MilkWIC is a federal program intended to supplement food stamp benefits for a particularly vulnerable population of women and young children. As such, it has strict -- and at times very odd -- guidelines to focus these supplemental food dollars on nutritionally dense staple foods.

Wisconsin's AB 110 would mandate that two-thirds of a person's FoodShare benefits could be spent only on foods on the WIC-approved list. Exemptions have been added so recipients can also purchase fish, beef, pork, chicken, and potatoes. Strangely, exemptions were not added so that the "healthy" two-thirds could also be spent on a full range of healthy Wisconsin farm products and fresh food.

The result is that the bulk of your FoodShare dollars can be spent on milk, but not organic milk; on eggs, but only on white eggs by the dozen, not on brown, free-range, or organic eggs; on 100 percent whole wheat bread, but not on gluten-free bread for those with Celiac disease; on slices of American cheese, but not sharp cheddar. FoodShare dollars can be spent on dry beans, but not if they come from a money-saving bulk bin at your local food coop. You can get juice boxes for your children, but only Juicy Juice brand juice boxes.

In order for the state Department of Health Services to implement changes to FoodShare purchasing guidelines, it would need to attain a federal waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). But when Minnesota tried to prohibit purchase of candy or soda in 2004, and New York City tried to ban purchase of certain sugary drinks in 2010, both waiver requests were denied. The USDA points out the lack of clear standards to define foods as healthy or unhealthy.

As Bill Approaches Vote, Public Input Needed

According to the Associated Press, the Assembly committee heard input from food companies, grocery stores, and food banks. They told Wisconsin lawmakers that restrictions "would shame recipients and burden businesses with enforcement." Democrats on the committee -- who voted against the measure -- said it "would stigmatize poor people who already have limited options in buying food."

In addition to Rep. Kaufert, AB 110's supporters include Representatives John Nygren (R-Marinette), Kathy Bernier (R-Chippewa Falls), Ed Brooks (R-Reedsburg), Jeff Stone (R-Greendale), Paul Tittl (R-Manitowoc), Garey Bies (R-Sister Bay), Samantha Kerkman (R-Powers Lake), Scott Krug (R-Wisconsin Rapids), Pat Strachota (R-West Bend), Daniel LeMahieu (R-Cascade), Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green), Mike Kuglitsch (R-New Berlin), Michael Schraa (R-Oshkosh), Alvin Ott (R-Forest Junction), Mike Endsley (R-Sheboygan), Jeffrey Mursau (R-Crivitz), and Travis Tranel (R-Cuba City). In the Senate, the bill's supporters include Senators Robert Cowles (R-Shawano), Joe Leibham (R-Sheboygan), Frank Lasee (R-Casco), and Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend).

As Wisconsin Assemblymembers gather to vote on this bill May 7, these elected officials should expect to hear from those whose lives and food choices would be directly affected by the bill.

NOTE: AB 110 passed the Wisconsin State Assembly on May 7, 2013.


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Free Choice Should Be Allowed

I believe that no matter what a person/family decides to buy with their food stamp benefits they should be allowed to choose. The reality of the situation is, if they choose options that are too expensive, they are going to run out of food stamps before they get more. This will teach families to be more responsible in budgeting and making wiser choices about the foods they are buying. To put foods on a banned list is irrational and takes away people's freedom to choose.
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This is clearly a bid by major corporations to squelch small organic farmers in favor of their pesticide-laden, GMO crap.

When I was on food stamps I did see people who abused it. A woman ahead of me in line once bought 20 cans of baked beans and gobs of candy. I don't know how she was still alive eating like that. Meanwhile I was buying seeds so I could grow my own food, organic milk, organic fruits and vegetables, and trying to stay healthy on a shoestring. I bought at Trader Joes a bit and they never made me feel bad. I bought ice cream a few times and some salads kits when I was out and about for lunch.

There are some people who really should be making wiser choices about what thy eat. An educational program would be helpful for many, but I'm guessing that would be sponsored by corporate farming conglomerates and companies like Nestle who convinced women that formula was better than brat milk for their babies. It was the future made possible by science!

Many people are on Food Stamps because they have other disabilities and not just that they are lazy. I'd like to challenge any of you to try to live on the meager $200 a month they give you for food as a single person with a maximum benefit. Unless you are buying staple foods and making everything from scratch it can barely be done. Who cooks from scratch anymore? Any of you? I didn't think so. Many stores used to have a few aisles of staples 50 years ago, now you can barely find that.

Agree! Finally someone who gets it.

I feel exactly the same way. I find it bizarre that healthy options of any sorts would be considered a junk food, or a treat so to speak. When I buy organic, that is my treat so be it. But I'd rather see my tax payer dollars going towards healthy options, I don't have a problem limiting pop and chips, since a lot of the youth are heavy these days. But the organic section really bothered me. I also feel if they are going to tell people what to do buy, then they should start in the lunch rooms in schools, and ban the sale of pop and junk food and no more white bread... Sell water, and organic fruit in the school machine..and hey I know take a look at McD's additives etc, follow the rate of obesity and childhood cancers since they are both on the rise, and some of these people who find that ok should go back and tell their own family members who may be less fortunate when there company closes the door to keep buying only Nitrate, GMO foods and then rationalize it. Casting systems in US imagine that.

I cook from scratch,

I cook from scratch, primarily because I do not wish to consume copious quantities of salt, sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, preservatives, hydrogenated fats, artificial flavors, artificial colors, etc. I do not, and never have received, or applied for, food stamps although my income qualifies. My monthly food budget (for two cats and myself) is $150. I eat well and am in excellent health at 71.

not from scratch

If your circumstances changed and you were forced to utilize food assistance, you would not be able to purchase items like flour, sugar, seasonings, some oils. Cooking from scratch would likely become challenging or impossible if this bill passes. Ironically, if you were physically, mentally, or cognitively challenged and/or you did not have access to true cooking facilities beyond a microwave or hot plate, most prepared foods, healthy or less so, will not be allowed either. These meals may have less nutritional value than fresh food, but can certainly help Foodshare and other dollars stretch.

It is far better to incentivize fresh fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, lower fat, healthier cuts of meat and meat substitutes, and whole grains, etc., and to educate people on how and why to make different choices, rather than be arbitrary, punitive, and corporate-minded as AB110 and its supporters. Perhaps they could get 25% more value in these purchases (as long as AB110 seems to complicate grocers tracking already). I believe other state/s have succeeded with implementing incentivizing measures for truly healthy purchases-which may not be able to work out to every dietary need, but at least wouldn't penalize.

Use of food stamps

If rules prohibiting the purchase of the most healthful foods are a Republican invention, I am thoroughly ashamed of their actions. Brown eggs? Organic milk? OBVIOUSLY, a grab by major commercial producers to force the "little guy" ~ who is no threat ~ out of the marketplace.

cooking from scratch

I do. It's incredibly easy and cheaper and better for you. The food companies pick quick and easy stuff to make (they don't want to spend time and money on making it) and sell it for a high profit. Plus they put a whole lot of garbage preservative and flavorings in it.

And making it yourself is as easy as paying much more for pre-made food.
Mac and cheese is macaroni, powdered cheese or grated cheese and butter or oil. Boil the macaroni, add the cheese and oil. Just like the pricey packaged stuff that costs a lot more.

I'm glad I'm independent from the food made by mega clogomorates. It's economic freedom for me and better food.

It's sad that people can't cook the simplest of foods.

Clearly, most Republicans want to kill us

I see this bill as an assault on poor people, another way to scapegoat and punish them for being poor. People cannot sustain health with the kind of restrictions this bill imposes. Why should poor people tolerate having a small group of legislators dictate what their families can eat? This is un- American. Should we tell the governor and legislators what they can buy with their state paid salaries? Should we base it on job performance too? They seem to think that different standards apply to different economic brackets, when the FACT is, we are ALL dependent on the state and each other for our livelihoods.

Junk or Bunk

Personally, I can see where any food that sets a premium price should be considered to be outside the norm for SNAP (food stamp) purchases. In this case all three items mentioned are sold at premiums prices, and, in my opinion, should not qualify for SNAP recipients.