Citing budget constraints, the U.S Department of Agriculture has decided to stop distributing free publications through the government's Consumer Information Center.

The dropped titles represent one-fourth of the center's business, and include four of the its five most popular booklets: "How to Buy Economically: A Food Buyer's Guide," "Home Food Preservation," "Growing Your Own Vegetables" and "Food is More Than Something to Eat."

Nelson Fitton, USDA's publications chief, said the agency will save roughly $850,000 annually by ending free distribution through the Pueblo, Colo., center. In the past, the center distributed about 95 percent of the department's free copies.

Some of the publications will still be available free from the department, congressional offices and federal depository libraries.

Others may go on sale for the first time because of changes in the works that would lower the minimum cost of a Government Printing Office publication from $1.75 to 50 or 75 cents.

So far the USDA is the only agency to pull its publications off the center's list.

Teresa N. Nasif, the center's director, said nearly 15 million consumers turn to it as a "primary source of information on nutrition, health, safety or entitlement programs." Its brochures, she added, are "publications that, in most cases, should remain free and easily accessible."