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Nutrition: Why WIC NEEDS Organic

Ignoring its dedication to providing low-income women, infants, and children with more “nutritious foods”, WIC’s increasing cuts to its list-approved organic foods should no longer be tolerated by WIC recipients nor by responsible taxpayers. As recently mentioned, a growing number of states have been preventing WIC recipients from purchasing organic products based on three major excuses: the ‘high’ cost of organics, a lack of scientific evidence that organic produce is more nutritious than their conventional counterpart, and recipient preferences. (See how your state stands on this issue by going here)

Organic Food and Nutrition

To the OCA, WIC's first major area of concern is the stubborn adherence to the belief that organic produce has not proven to be more nutritious than conventional food. On the contrary, a number of doctors and nutritionists are increasingly telling expecting mothers to favor organics to limit their and their child’s intake and exposure to unnecessary and dangerous pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones rampant in conventional foods.

As stated by Pesticide Action Network North America, when on a conventional diet, we are exposed to over 70 pesticide-related pollutants on a daily basis. According to licensed nutritionist, Alana Sugar, overconsumption of antibiotic rich foods such as conventional dairy or meat products may also encourage the growth of drug-resistant bacteria in humans.

In addition, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) concluded in the 1990s that infants and children faced unique and greater health risks when exposed to pesticides than adults. For over a decade, the NAS urged that policies change to protect “these most vulnerable segments of the population”. However, recent WIC developments seem to be taking a turn for the worse.

In contrast to conventional food, a diet of whole organic foods guarantees a wide array of vitamins and minerals vital to mothers and their children. Organic products are also free of harmful artificial preservatives, coloring and sweeteners, and added chemicals. Organic consumers can also be assured that their foods have not been genetically engineered or irradiated, and have not been grown using sewage sludge and other physically and environmentally harmful substances and practices.

Based on an article published in Pregnancy & Childbirth, a 1993 study in the Journal of Applied Nutrition proved that organically grown fruits and vegetables had higher nutritional content than conventional produce: “Organically grown apples, wheat, sweet corn, potatoes and pears were examined over a 2 year period and were 63% higher in calcium, 73% higher in iron, 118% higher in magnesium, 178% higher in molybdenum, 91% higher in phosphorus, 125% higher in potassium and 60% higher in zinc than conventionally grown produce.” Also, organic meats were not only found to generally leaner, but also have about five times the omegas-3s of conventionally raised beef. Clearly, a wide range of organic produce offers much greater nutritional advantages than conventional products.

A recent 2009 Report published by the Organic Center counters many of the nutrition-based excuses used by Washington state to justify its decision to take organic milk off the WIC approved food list. The report cites research by the University of Washington and Emory University showing that consuming organic produce is the most dependable way to eliminate unsafe exposure to pesticides and hormones. According to the OC and based on data collected by the USDA’s Pesticide Data Program, switching to organic food reduces ones pesticide intake by over 95%.

WIC’s Negative Effect on Health

However, instead of buying organic, WIC recipients are now forced to purchase milk from hormone-ingested cows, conventional GM-derived wheat and soy products, and fruits and vegetables the USDA has tested to contain up to over 30 different kinds of pesticides.

The American Pregnancy Association itself has long advocated for pregnant women and their children to avoid pesticide exposure. They have gone as far as recommend that women living in conventional agricultural areas move away from them during their pregnancies. Indeed, researchers have found pesticide residue in the amniotic fluid of 70% of newborns birthed in conventional agricultural areas.

Many experts now agree that the biggest risk to an unborn child is a mother’s intake of the pesticides and herbicides hidden in conventionally grown fruits and vegetables; organic foods however still did not show sufficient benefits to Washington and other states. While pesticides and chemicals have been shown to cross from a mother to her child through the placenta, organic food continues to be taken off WIC approved food lists.

The effects of pesticides found in conventional produce have undeniable effects on children at all stages of their development. From the first trimester during which a baby’s nervous system begins to develop to the early stages of a child’s life when his or her organs are still maturing, buying organic produce gives children the head start they need to lead an optimally healthy life.

Pregnant women who chose organic are helping their children develop the healthiest endocrine system possible to regulate metabolism and tissue function. Unlike a growing majority of children, those with a healthy endocrine system have the capacity to manage their weight and blood sugar levels, curbing the trillions of dollars spent annually on health care to fight growing rates of childhood obesity and the “middle-aged diseases” now suffered by too many children in America.

At this point, to say organic produce holds no nutritional or health-related benefits seems thoroughly illogical.

More Resources:

US Government Fact Sheet: Children's Pesticide Exposure via Food Products

Organic Bytes Newsletter

Intro to Organics