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.


The bulk food bins are an extremely cheap way to go. resticting these is just insane or something worse.

So WI "re-labels" (ala George Orwell) ACTUAL, REAL, SAFE, GOOD FOR YOU, FOOD as "junk food" because WHY??? Could it be that their legislators are BRIBED into the commission of TREASON TOO?!?

If your friend is going to fill your car with gas, are you going to get the premium or regular unleaded? I'd get unleaded... Exceptions should be made for those with celiac disease to be allowed to buy gluten free. (Or other medical conditions where food comes into play).... But those buying organic just because they can with money given to them by the government should be stopped. If you want organic, that can be your motivation to get off of govt assistance. So you can purchase them with YOUR hard earned money.

do you know what a can of worms that is? People who are sick have to prove it enough as it is. If they can make the budget work for organic, why strip that one bit of good health away from them?

You seem to be unaware of the fact that many Wisconsin Farmers markets take food stamps. Many of them sell farm fresh eggs that are white or brown, some sell milk that is organic, and many sell cheese. Being on government assistance doesn't mean that you have to poison yourself with crappy food. And buying organic isn't the same as filling your car with premium gas. Your comment lacks respect for those who don't rely on the system but fall on hard times.

If they can afford organic food, I have no problem with them purchasing it. I'm middle class and can't afford organic milk, eggs and produce and certainly not healthy meat and I don't always have time to get to the farmer's market or coop in addition to the regular grocery store.

Your position is that if you fall on hard economic times, you forfeit you ability to be concerned with the quality and nutritional value of the food your family eats. If you're poor, you're only allowed to by the cheap stuff, not the healthy stuff... that's your position?

If you fall on hard times you'd be forced to make sacrifices. If sacrifices aren't made what benefit is there to get back up? And why can't "cheap" food be healthy? They're not saying you can't buy bananas, and eggs, and milk and apples. Y just can't get the top of the line organic. If you want first class, you should have to pay for it.

I'm middle class and I can't afford organic milk...I believe they have 1/3 of their vouchers to buy whatever they want.

Juicy juice was found to have unsafe levels of arsenic. Bulk dry beans are cheaper than packaged. Humane and organic products benefit the producers, the animals, and ultimately all consumers. Making poor people less healthy is going to cost more in the long run and is purely to the benefit of our highly supplemented factory farm system and pharmaceutical companies. GMOs remain untested and cheap value brands are paid for with corporate welfare. Follow the money! This isn't about healthier food and supporting local agriculture, it is about funnelling more public funds into the pockets of multinational corporations.