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WASHINGTON -- Tom Stenzel, United Fresh Produce Association's president and chief executive officer, released Sept. 29 the following statement on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants & Children, which will begin national distribution of fruit and vegetable vouchers Oct. 1.

"With this landmark policy change, it is a win-win for WIC moms and kids across the United States and for the entire produce industry," Mr. Stenzel said in the statement. "WIC participants will now have access to a wide variety of nutritious fresh fruits and vegetables that can have a meaningful impact on their health and wellbeing. These WIC fruit and vegetable vouchers represent an additional $600 million worth of produce a year to more than 9 million WIC moms and kids."

He continued, "It's very gratifying to know that United's decade-long leadership on this critical policy initiative is finally benefiting so many families across the country. Dating back to 1999, we championed the addition of produce in WIC at high-level meetings with USDA and the Clinton White House, and then spearheaded provisions in the House and Senate Appropriations committees the following year. More recently, we redoubled our efforts after the very positive recommendations made by the Institute of Medicine in 2005, which called for the addition of fruits and vegetables to WIC. Change can take a long time in Washington, but this new WIC policy is a reminder that we must remain tenacious and never give up.

He added, "Data from three pilot programs in California and New York clearly demonstrate that WIC moms will seize the opportunity to redeem these vouchers for a wide variety of nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables, and that they will redeem them with greater frequency - 91 percent -- than any other WIC voucher. What's more, data show that use of these fruit and vegetable vouchers will result in increased produce consumption.

He concluded, "Starting October 1, WIC moms across the country will receive an $8 per-month voucher, while participating kids will receive a $6 per- month voucher good for fresh fruits and vegetables. With the addition of fruits and vegetables to this program, we are ecstatic that so many moms and kids will have the opportunity to enjoy more fresh produce as part of a nutritious diet."