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.


I am so amazed at people calling others on Foodshare 'lazy' and 'go get a job'. I have three PT jobs, and also two kids. The benefits that I get doesn't just go towards what I eat, but towards what my kids eat as well. Why should they not have a choice of eating healthy food items because they are poor? Don't you want them to be healthy individuals, who would grow up to not be struggling with poor diet induced diseases? Seriously! Are we living in a society or what? Do you also complain about your tax dollars going towards roads that you probably would never drive on? How about keeping a track of all the places where you don't drive and then complaining about your tax dollars going towards it. Or how about making sure the city is putting out more fires in rich neighborhoods, because I am sure they are contributing more towards the tax money. Most food share recipients are either the elderly or little kids and child poverty is highest in the US compared to all other industrialized countries. Read something and get educated before you start complaining about 'lazy poor people' with multiple jobs struggling to make ends meet. I have no problem with restrictions on junk food, but what about kids who are lactose intolerant, 'American cheese singles' are not healthy either! Not to mention that being jewish, we can only eat food that is kosher and with all these restrictions, we would have to plain eliminate certain stuff from our diet, or pay it out of pocket, which would put strain on all other aspects of our lives. But of course, because we are poor, we should be happy that we are even getting food and then be subject to all health issues that come with poor diet, because we had the misfortune of being poor. Too bad right. Seriously what kind of selfish, self centered people are you?

You asked, "Are we living in a society or what?". Although I assume the question was rhetorical, it goes to the core of the issue. In fact, most conservatives don't believe in "society". They scoff at the notion of "community" and, outside of their personal circle of friends and family, devalue cooperative effort as a means of progress unless it is underpinned by expectations of private profit. To them, we are merely a collection of individuals existing within a civilization. Social Darwinism, tempered only at the whims of a relative handful of financially capable private individuals who happen to be feeling charitable at any given moment or during any given economic atmosphere. The word "society" implies "social" which, as we all know, leads to socialism. Community - Communist. Same thing. Conservatives want none of it. It's every man, and perhaps his family, for himself. Empathy is something cons reserve only for those they know personally. All others are deserving only of resentment and hate.

I find it rather funny how many people seem vehemently angry about the poor receiving benefits wherein they still have some degree of freedom to choose what they eat. I'm actually rather proud that I help those who cannot help themselves simply by paying my taxes, and particularly proud that recipients are given the dignity of choice. If you are a Christian (or even just pretend to be at Christmas), try to remember that charity is a virtue, and paying your taxes is the least and laziest you can do to help. It's also worth noting that programs that reduce poverty also reduce crime and disease, so if you're not a Christian and instead believe in might-makes-right objectivism, you're still benefiting from these programs by buying a safer, more stable society. These restrictions aren't a big deal, but the more we treat the poor like animals, the less dignity we have ourselves.

This bill is an embarrassment, organic food is NOT junk food. Despicable.

OK, I agree that there are those who abuse the system and there are those who do not. To those who do not, I have no issue paying taxes to help, but I really don't believe that soda, chips and other assorted "junk" should be paid for with tax dollars. On the same hand, I think it is plain stupid that toothpaste, toilet paper and other hygiene products are not included. What I believe to be fair and just, is simple. Dairy, produce and select meats (no steaks or "low grade" meat). If you want cheap burger, hot dogs, etc., you need to buy it with your own money. If you want Oreo cookies or Froot Loops or juice boxes... buy it.. with your own money. I am willing to help with food that is not filled with a list of ingredients that I cannot pronounce. To those who do abuse the system... You are the scum of the earth. You take from those who actually need the help. GET A JOB! Now for the reason I believe our elected corporate sponsors say that brown eggs and sharp cheddar are not to be included... in one word, Monsanto. If you want the system changed, then you need to change the system. Stop electing corporate sponsors.

So you force the poor to eat more unhealthy. they end up going to doctor for intervention, pharmaceuticals. Who Pays? you the community! Healthy eating returns money to pockets of citizens.

I am all for limiting junk food. But I use chocolate to keep my sugar levels good. I could not afford insulin if I would step over to the diabetic side...I'm always on the border..I want to buy brown organic eggs or organic milk because it's healthier for me. I also want to be able to buy veggies and fruit but we have to buy volume and for two people you can't eat a watermelon in a week or eat a bag of apples or oranges..Single serve is better so I can buy weekly and fresh. If the congress people can guarantee health insurance, then we wouldn't have to worry about what we are eating, because we could get access to free health club memberships and nutritionist and be able to make better choices.

What does it matter to you what other people are eating? If they are given a specific budget via SNAP/foodstamps, it's fixed and how someone else spends what little is alloted to them is none of our business. They are going to get the same amount of money and what they choose eat will cost nothing more to taxpayers. If you choose to eat non-organic eggs or milk on your fixed income, great, do it. If someone else makes a different choice, then they should be allowed to do it. It makes no logical, rational sense to limit people's choices. The sad thing is that organic foods are not "fancy" they are more healthy and produced in a way that is less harmful to animals and the environment. Why should someone who is poor be forced to make unhealthy, inhumane choices?? Why do so many people lack compassion for the poor?

38% of adult FoodShare recipients were employed as of March 2013 (http://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/foodshare/pdf/ataglance/2013/Ataglance201303.pdf). This number would be even higher if we would take the elderly and disabled adults out of the denominator, those who we don't expect to work anyways. It's a myth that people are living luxuriously off the government's dollar. People often have to rely on this supplement because their low-wage or part-time jobs aren't enough to make ends meet. Also, 50% of recipients are 23 or younger and 19% are elderly, blind or disabled.