WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association today applauded the announcement of a proposed rule by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that, for the first time, would include fresh produce in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program, which provides assistance to millions of needy families.

Once this regulation is implemented by USDA, it will mark the first time in the 32-year history of the WIC program that monthly vouchers for the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables will be provided. The U.S. Institute of Medicine recommended significant changes to the WIC package in 2005.

The USDA proposed rule will align the WIC food packages with 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and current infant feeding practice guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"The USDA's announcement is welcome news to mothers and their children who should not be deprived access to nutritious meals, including fresh fruits and vegetables in their daily diet," said Thomas E. Stenzel, United president and CEO. "We have been working for this landmark achievement for many years and we are hopeful that the rule will be expedited after the 90-day public comment period so that everyone, regardless of income, can benefit from better nutrition."

United has long worked with USDA officials and members of Congress to improve the food choices available to children nationwide under the WIC program. Since its inception in 1974, the WIC program has provided vouchers to low-income mothers and children for milk, eggs, cereal and juice, but not fresh fruits and vegetables.

"United has implemented numerous programs to dramatically grow fruit and vegetable consumption by changing the environment in which children make food choices in America. We are extremely pleased with today's announcement because it reflects current nutrition science and will help lower-income families eat a healthier diet," said Lorelei DiSogra, the association's vice president of nutrition and health.

The proposed rule is expected to be published in the Federal Register on Monday, Aug. 7, 2006.

Founded in 1904, United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association's mission is to promote the growth and success of produce companies and their partners. United is the national trade organization that represents the interests of growers, shippers, processors, brokers, wholesalers and distributors of produce, working together with their customers at retail and foodservice, suppliers at every step in the distribution chain, and international partners.

SOURCE: United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association via PR Newswire.