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

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.


Who cares if he is low income or not? TO be given $200 a month, plus whatever other benefits he gets, and being allowed to eat whatever he please is insane. Again working people paying into that system cannot even afford to eat that well why should those getting handouts

"working people paying into that system cannot even afford to eat that well why should those getting handouts" a) those "handouts" are the tax money I've paid into the system coming back to me b) you can make the same choices with your grocery budget that I do with mine. It doesn't matter where the money comes from. c) my food habits didn't change much when I had to go on foodshare. Yes, I buy less fish & other meat, and less of things like orange juice. But overall I've always been frugal whether it's my original money or my recycled money. Eating lower on the food chain is less expensive & healthier.

Except that no one is able to eat whatever they want. You get a budget. A limited amount. I highly doubt an individual got $200, but even if they did, you honestly think habits like that are going to make that last? I've bought groceries on $200. Cheap bread, milk - the most expensive things I buy are TV dinners only because they're easy to take to work with little prep (since half the time I don't have time to make lunch the night beforehand). By the time I'm done with monthly shopping, I have $50 left. Which I have to save to refill on the stuff that'll go bad in a week. If you can live off nothing but bread and water, I pity you, because that's a terrible diet and just because someone is poor does NOT mean that they should be subsisting on absolutely no nutrition. This isn't a third world country. Besides, the point is, and that YOU don't see to get, is that this list forbids foods some people HAVE to eat. Someone just told you they're lactose intolerant - which, a LOT of people are lactose intolerant. It's not a rare disorder. A lot of people are allergic to gluten. Those people have a hard enough time affording food they can eat, let alone if they're impoverished. If you're that hurting for money, apply for food stamps and stop whining. How dare your money go towards helping some people - you read an article one time about a single person abusing the system and so now NO ONE gets anything! If this law wants to limit junk food, it should do that. Soy milk ISN'T JUNK FOOD. Nor is it that much more expensive than regular milk.

Who cares where the money he has goes? The point is when you get $200 a month in food plus whatever other benefits you get you really have no right to complain. I mean would you rather have nothing or the regular food everyone else eats?

defending health "you really have no right to complain. I mean would you rather have nothing or the regular food everyone else eats" People are always allowed to speak up in defense of their own health. And while some of what's proposed to be prohibited is really junk food, some of the required things are junk food too. I mean seriously - you want me to be able to buy single-serving juicy-juice boxes which are nutritionally worthless and per-ounce much more expensive than buying a half-gallon of just about any juice? Or you want to force me to eat "American cheese" (crap) instead of being allowed to buy real Wisconsin cheeses? The white eggs I agree with, because they're no different nutritionally from brown eggs. It's just a different breed of chicken. But organic or free-range are more nutritious.

Sounds like a good argument, but sadly, it's not. One of the great lies of our time is that poor sit around and have gourmet items at taxpayer expense, while hard-working Americans foot the bill. It's a lie. While it's true that some folks do game the system the vast majority don't; overwhelmingly most would prefer to make their own living. And those on assistance who choose to eat organic, whether for health reasons or just because they want to, do so at a cost: that assistance won't stretch as far if it's spent on higher ticket organic items. So there's a trade-off built in to the equation. News flash: most welfare recipients don't eat the fancy stuff as they need to stretch every penny. So if they occasionally buy almond butter or organic produce that should be up to them.

You are assuming that people receiving foodstamps are not working. Every single person I worked with at my previous job, that had children, still qualified for food assistance even while working full time. That should be more appalling then someone buying a six pack of soda with their benefits.

Someone on assistance who uses it to buy soy milk and cheddar cheese isn't costing the taxpayers one dime more than if they use it for white milk and American cheese. So why do you care?

The portion of this bill relating to gluten-free bread is a violation of the American Disabilities Act. Someone should put the sponsors of this bill on notice with regard to this violation. How - embarrassing!

The list is pretty arbitrary. American cheese and juice boxes are junk. I suppose I can understand why wic doesn't allow organic, it is cost. But it sounds like food share is like EBT in RI and people are allotted money for groceries. If you want to buy organic eggs and cheddar cheese and skip the juice and excess meat, I don't see why that is a problem. If you need to make the money last all month, you'll figure it out. If we're going to set limits, let's say no packaged snack foods, no single serving juice. Pick things that make sense.