Transcript of Acting Agriculture Secretary Chuck Conner's Remarks at the Rollout of the Women, Infants and Children's New Food Package | USDA Newsroom
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News Transcript

Release No. 0366.07
Office of Communications (202) 720-4623

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Washington D.C.- December 6, 2007

Nancy, thank you very, very much for that warm introduction.

I do want to recognize Nancy [Johner, Under Secretary for Food and Nutrition Programs] for her tireless work. She is an enthusiastic champion of our nutrition programs and her commitment to a healthier America through effective and strong nutrition programs that we operate out of this agency.

Just over a month ago, Nancy and I were honored to announce "My Pyramid for Moms," which is a new website that we provided for expectant women and new moms to get them nutrition guidance to meet what we regard as their very unique needs.

Now today, of course, in our continuing effort to improve nutrition across all sectors of the people we serve we're pleased to announce the first major revision in the foods offered in our WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program, as has been noted, in nearly three decades.

These changes, I believe, will make a strong program even stronger going forward.

They reflect our constant efforts, albeit a long time in coming, to make sure our nutrition programs work for every American and at every stage of life and, of course, always with a special focus on our most vulnerable within our population.

This was the intent of one of the original co-sponsors of the legislation that created WIC, Senator Bob Dole as has been noted already.

Senator, we are deeply honored to have you here at USDA. I know you feel at home here and you should. You have a place in USDA's "Hall of Heroes"; if you haven't seen the plaque on this wall on the other side of these pillars again it demonstrate the fact that Bob Dole is indeed a pillar here at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He brought an atmosphere of bipartisanship to nutrition issues that has really persisted to this day on Capitol Hill and our most vulnerable have been effectively served by that bipartisanship.

I am also delighted that Father Doug Greenaway is joining us, as well, again an institution within our own organization. And again, Doug, thanks for all that you do on behalf of all of us.

And I want to extend a warm welcome to everyone here including our WIC participants and my thanks to our partners and everyone we work with. These nutrition programs involve so many levels of cooperation and participation.

This is a critical program that would not reach 8.5 million people without commitment from all the people involved in this.

With the interim final rule that we're announcing today, we're responding, we believe to the repeated requests that we have received; those from WIC agencies, those from stakeholders and, of course, from participants themselves, to revise the food package so it does reflect the latest nutrition science and dietary recommendations for Americans.

We believe this rule will do just that.

By including fruits, vegetables and whole grains, for example, it will also reinforce MyPyramid and the 2005 Dietary Guidelines as the foundation for federal nutrition policy and nutrition education activities.

The rule will also better align our food packages for infants and young children with the guidelines established by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

It will also provide stronger incentives for continued breastfeeding.

And it will help address emerging public health and nutrition issues, like the importance of consuming more fruits, vegetables, whole grains into a healthier diet. Certainly advice we can all use I suspect.

Under the rule, we have revised WIC's food packages so they do a better job of offering choices and serving the changing needs of WIC's very diverse population in America today.

To accomplish this, we've added:

New food categories and optional substitutions;

And of course, fruits and vegetables for women and children;

Baby foods for infants six-to-12 months of age; and in some cases

soy-based beverages and tofu as milk alternatives for women and children who desire that option.

And for the first time whole wheat bread or other grain options such as soft corn tortillas for women and children, again to note oftentimes the cultural diversity that exists within our WIC population.

As you can see, and I hope you understand, we've designed these changes to meet the very special needs of our participants. Participants need help during critical times of growth and development for themselves and in some cases their young children.

It is one of USDA's 15 nutrition assistance programs that work together to provide our low-income children and their families with better health through better nutrition.

It is available in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, tribal organizations and of course, many American territories. We are proud of the accomplishments we have achieved by reaching so many people in America today.

Studies have shown that WIC helps reduce premature births, infant mortality and other birth-related issues. On the education side, health care referrals and social services help boost immunization rates and help children grow up to be healthier and stronger and obviously that is a very, very good thing.

WIC works and through the years, our fundamental goals for that program have not changed.

The revisions we're announcing today will advance those goals by providing a healthier diet for our most valuable resource, our children, and those, of course, who provide the first meal to those children: pregnant, breastfeeding and, in some cases, postpartum mothers.

I'll be the first to say we couldn't have achieved these revisions alone.

We did rely upon an outstanding group of dedicated people for their expert guidance, including our own agency personnel and stakeholders across the country.

I do want to single out the National Academies' Institute of Medicine for collaborating with us on the key study of the nutritional requirements of our WIC population.

The recommendations from that study were critical and fundamental to us in guiding this process.

We received over 46,000 comments on this proposed rule, ladies and gentlemen. This feedback was invaluable to us in bringing all the concerns into account when we drafted this interim final rule.

Thanks to all of this deliberate and thoughtful input, we feel these comprehensive revisions to the WIC food packages better meet the nutritional needs of our participants, and, of course, staying within a reasonable program cost as well.

My thanks to all of you who helped us develop these changes and who work every day on the ground to make sure this program reaches those most in need.

I believe this is an historic moment in terms of moving forward with better nutrition for some of the most vulnerable in our society. In keeping with that history, today we're advancing the vision of Senator Robert Dole who once asked the question that inspires so many of us in this room even today. He said, "What greater human right is there than the right to eat?"

It is a genuine honor for me to welcome and introduce Senator Dole to you today. He needs no introduction. We know him as a true statesman. We know him as a humanitarian.

The Senator followed the advice of his predecessor from Kansas, Senator Frank Carlson, to "sit back, listen, and then of course, simply stand up for what you believe in". And that has been what has marked his career.

There are so many areas where the Senator stood up for what he believed in, veterans,

agriculture, and, of course, as he's perhaps most widely known for nutrition issues.

He was the author of many pieces of farm legislation and has always understood the link between production agriculture and nutrition.

For more than 30 years, Senator Dole and his good friend and colleague Senator George McGovern worked together to support life-saving hunger relief in the United States as well as many people around the globe.

In helping to create landmark anti-hunger legislation, Senator Dole demonstrated that combating malnourishment and hunger is more important than partisan politics. And fortunately that position has really prevailed on the Hill to this day.

Our nutrition safety net of 15 programs and the Dole-McGovern International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program are testaments to his partnerships, his leadership. We welcome him today, ladies and gentlemen, Senator Bob Dole.

[Sustained Applause].