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IFPA urges USDA and FDA to update WIC packages

IFPA and WIC Final Banner Use

February 23, 2023 Washington, DC and Newark, DE – As the International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA) BB #:378962 continues its nutrition policy and advocacy to create more opportunities for fresh fruits and vegetables across federal feeding and nutrition programs, it recently responded to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Food and Drug Administration on proposed revisions to the USDA Food and Nutrition Service Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) food packages as well as the FDA’s ongoing efforts to define “healthy” for nutrient content claims.

Regarding WIC, USDA FNS sought feedback on better alignment of the program’s food packages, and in response, IFPA encouraged USDA to implement the rule as a whole and to not make changes that may hinder the integrity of the strong, science-based proposed food packages that have been put forth.

The industry has long advocated for USDA to implement the 2017 National Academy of Sciences recommendations which called for a 3-4 time increase in the amount of fruits and vegetables available within the WIC program. IFPA successfully advocated for the temporary increase during the COVID-19 pandemic and the proposed food package would make this increase permanent.

“Updating the WIC food packages, which IFPA supports, is one of the most significant steps taken to implement new national nutrition strategy unveiled by the White House last September,” said IFPA Vice President of Nutrition and Health Mollie Van Lieu.

“Not only will the updates positively impact the health and nutrition of the 4.9 million women and children who will receive enhanced fruit and vegetable benefits, but it makes Dietary Guidelines for Americans’ (DGA) guidance of ‘making half your plate fruit and vegetables a reality by allocating half the benefit for produce – a target only 10% of Americans of any income level currently attain.”

In addition to supporting USDA’s proposal on the CVB, IFPA also recommended the agency:
• Maintain elevated CVB benefits throughout implementation and avoid “all or nothing” limitations as food packaged are updated.
• Further align program with DGA guidance of consuming “mostly whole” (which includes fresh-cut) by defaulting to a higher value CVB and allowing juice as an “opt-in” substitution.
• Allow caregivers to swap jarred infant fruits and vegetables for whole and fresh-cut fruits and vegetables for infants ages 6 to 11 months.
• Promote equity and nutrition security and the support for cultural and traditional foods and preferences in the updated food packages.
• Consider implementation needs of state and local WIC agencies and retailers when finalizing the updated food packages.

Regarding FDA’s proposed definition of “healthy,” IFPA cited data that finds more than half of consumers look at the Nutrition Facts Panel or ingredient list “often” or “always” when making a purchasing decision, and approximately 40% say they consider other labeling statements about health or nutrition benefits.

“Food and nutrition labeling touches every consumer regardless of socio-economic status. While we must focus on those who are most nutrition insecure, almost all Americans under-consume fruits and vegetables,” said Van Lieu.

“Every time a consumer seeks nutritious food and is sold a food or beverage that undermines their health, it is a missed opportunity to reduce diet-related disease. Labeling transparency is a valuable tool for assisting consumers in making healthful choices and following dietary guidance.”

IFPA provided feedback on specific areas the agency should address through its proposed rule:
• Raw Fruits and Vegetables. IFPA supports FDA’s proposed decision to include all raw, whole, fruits and vegetables as meeting the “healthy” definition as well as encourages FDA to take special consideration to ensure that individual servings of whole fresh produce that are cut, sliced, diced and cubed for convenience, and have no added nutrients to limit, are not excluded.
• Vegetable and Fruit Products Beyond Raw. IFPA encourages FDA to consider commonly consumed amounts of products containing fruit and vegetable purees, pastes, powders, and dried products and only extend a healthy label if they are aligned with dietary guidelines. IFPA also raised the issue that there are many products in the marketplace today that contain insignificant amounts of fruit and vegetable powders and purees yet imply otherwise.
• Added Sugars. IFPA supports FDA’s proposal to not allow added sugar allowances to meet the “healthy” criteria.
• Juice Products. IFPA raised concerns around the agency’s decision to allow the “healthy” definition to extend to 100% fruit juice. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) recommendations for fruits and vegetables encourages “mostly whole” (which includes fresh cut) and encourages limits around juice consumption. FDA’s proposal as currently written does not provide a mechanism to communicate to the consumer at point of selection that juices should be limited. Given the DGA recommendations to consume mostly whole fruits and vegetables, the agency must be mindful of whether a healthy claim could drive consumers to select juices over whole or cut fruit and vegetables.
• Infants and Children Under Two Years of Age. IFPA strongly encourages FDA to consider how juice products that meet the updated “healthy” definition, like 100% fruit juice, but are not recommended for children under 12 months and should be limited for children under age two (according to DGA), would realistically be perceived to consumers at the point of sale.

IFPA also urged FDA to address the issue of deceptive or misleading labeling through disclosures and declarations that clearly indicate to the consumer the actual amount of fruits and vegetables per serving, whether or not the fruit or vegetable is in its whole form, and if the product in question only contains a fruit or vegetable flavoring, it should be disclosed that it contains no real fruits or vegetables.

“While outside the scope of the proposal, we encourage FDA to take additional actions to improve dietary quality for consumers through effective labeling and appreciate the agency’s commitment to explore front of package labeling options,” Van Lieu suggested.

“More must be done to address diet-related disease through labeling transparency. We encourage the FDA to review the most frequently employed claims with implications for public health, including “made with” and “contains real fruit” claims, the use of misleading images of whole fruits and vegetables when only minuscule amounts are in a serving, and the use of misleading titles for categories of foods that are unhealthy or are minimally nutritious foods.”

About the International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA)
The International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA)?is the largest and most diverse international association serving the entire fresh produce and floral supply chain and the only to seamlessly integrate world-facing advocacy and industry-facing support. We exist to bring the industry together to create a vibrant future for all. We grow our member’s prosperity by conducting advocacy; connecting people and ideas; and offering guidance that allows us all to?take action?with purpose and confidence.?

Contact: Siobhan May, +1 (302) 781-5855