What is WIC?
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides federal grants to states, territories, and tribal nations for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant and postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk. The program is overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and administered by state and local agencies. WIC temporarily provides income-eligible women with packages to buy foods with certain nutritional aspects, such as high iron or protein content, in accordance with their family's needs.
Each state, territory, and tribal nation (89 in total) has its own approved foods list of which products participants can buy through the program. Historically, WIC agencies have explicitly prohibited participants from buying cage-free eggs because of higher costs and perceptions that cage-free eggs are a specialty item. However, several states have added cage-free eggs to their approved foods lists over recent years in response to cage-free legislation, decreasing costs, and supply shortages of conventional eggs.
Find out if your state offers cage-free eggs to WIC recipients using our interactive map.
The cage-free label ensures basic welfare needs are met. Egg-laying hens in battery cages are given space no larger than the size of a standard sheet of paper and just enough height to stand. Therefore, birds in conventional caged systems do not have room to exercise or perform and natural behaviors, such as walking, running, flying, or fully spreading their wings. In addition to lack of space, battery cages do not provide hens with resources to perform natural behaviors, such as litter for dust-bathing, perches for resting, or material for nest-building.
Chickens in battery cages are also more likely to peck at other birds out of stress, boredom, or hunger, which can cause injury, feather loss, and in severe cases, mortality. Sick or injured hens in densely stocked cages can also suffer for prolonged periods without medical care because they are harder for workers to spot.
The total proportion of cage-free hens in the U.S. has tripled in the last five years, from 10% of the total egg-laying flock in 2016 to over 40% today. In addition, over 200 restaurants, retailers, and other food businesses have made commitments to transition to 100% cage-free eggs within the next several years, including retailers that WIC and its recipients highly depend on such as Target, Walmart, Publix, and Ahold Delhaize.
Compassion USA and WIC
To create a truly just, sustainable transition to a cage-free future, all consumers—regardless of income—must be able to access more compassionate foods. As egg production increasingly shifts to cage-free as a result of consumer demand, state legislation, and retailer commitments, it is in the WIC program's best interest to prepare for a cage-free future. Compassion USA is committed to working with the WIC program, National WIC Association, and major retailers to ensure all WIC recipients can purchase cage-free eggs.
Benefits of Adding Cage-Free
WIC agencies that have added cage-free eggs to their approved foods lists have cited several benefits, including:
- increased participant satisfaction
- increased redemption of benefits
- improved vendor relationships
- additional point-of-purchase options
- easier shopping experience
- ability to support local farmers
- increased flexibility with market changes