USDA Finalizes Changes to the WIC Program, Eases Access to Tofu, Soymilk

 

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) serves an astounding 53 percent of all infants born in the United States, and the finalized changes released February 28 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture represent the first permanent major changes in more than 35 years. For the 8.5 million low-income pregnant women, new mothers, infants and young children in WIC, these final rules help improve access to nutrition education and food security, and ease restrictions previously put on access to the high-quality, dairy-free protein available in soymilk and tofu.

Included in the new rules is the important decision drop the requirement for a medical letter for providing soymilk and tofu to WIC participants, which helps lift the paperwork, time and cost burdens and barriers to accessing high-quality plant-based proteins. The overall information collection and recordkeeping burden associated with WIC (OMB Number 0584- 0043) is estimated to decrease by 4,200 burden hours annually due to the final rule program changes.

“FNS will no longer require a health care professional licensed to write medical prescriptions to provide documentation for children to receive soy-based beverage and tofu as milk substitutes [or] for women to receive tofu in excess of the maximum substitution allowance.”

The ruling also states that a WIC nutritionist or registered dietitian as part of the WIC education with each participant “is capable of determining appropriate amounts and types of supplemental foods to issue to participants based on a nutrition assessment.”

Tofu — which is made just like cheese, by adding a coagulant to soymilk — was previously only WIC approved if it was made with calcium salts. The new WIC rules allow tofu to be made with calcium salts and magnesium chloride or other coagulants to provide additional nutrients and textures.

USDA stated as their reason for this change is to help families access healthy meal options within their traditional cultural eating patterns. “This additional flexibility allows State agencies to meet the needs of WIC’s culturally diverse participants,” the final rules stated.

“Calcium-set tofu prepared with calcium salts (e.g., calcium sulfate). May not contain added fats, sugars, oils, or sodium. Tofu must be calcium-set, i.e., contain calcium salts, but may also contain other coagulants, i.e. magnesium chloride.”

Preservation of traditional eating patterns are an important thread throughout the new rules, which state, “Since cultural practices may affect nutrient intake, [Food and Nutrition Service] will allow soy for cultural practices in amounts that meet participants’nutritional needs.”