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Six States Sue Over Lowered School Lunch Standards

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on April 04, 2019 | Last updated on April 05, 2019

Back in December of last year, Donald Trump's Department of Agriculture rolled back nutritional standards for federally-funded school lunch and breakfast programs. Among the changes? Greenlighting chocolate- and strawberry-flavored one percent milk; removing reduced sodium goals; and permitting half of the grains used in menu items to be made from refined white flour rather than whole grains.

Well, it turns out some states weren't too happy with the new guidelines. California, Illinois, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, and Vermont, along with the District of Columbia, have sued the USDA, claiming the changes were made in an arbitrary and capricious manner and in opposition to Congressional nutritional requirements for school meals.

Nutrition Requirement Rollback

"The Trump Administration has undermined key health benefits for our children — standards for salt and whole grains in school meals — with deliberate disregard for science, expert opinion, and the law," according to New York Attorney General Letitia James. The states are claiming that the school meal standards should be based on recommendations of the U.S. government's "Dietary Guidelines for Americans," the National Academy of Sciences, and scientific research regarding children's nutrition. The lawsuit also alleges the government "significantly weakened" nutritional standards without giving the public a chance to comment on them.

The Department of Agriculture contends it merely wanted to reduce bureaucracy and give schools more freedom. "We will continue to listen to schools, and make common-sense changes as needed," U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said at the time, "to ensure they can meet the needs of their students based on their real-world experience in local communities." One of the rollbacks made it easier for schools to get special waivers to serve select refined-grain foods.

A Grain of Truth

The USDA program provides low-cost or free meals in public schools and other institutions, feeding an estimated 30 million children last year. The government claims 20 percent of covered schools applied for exemptions to the whole-grain rule last year, requesting to serve pasta, tortillas, biscuits, and grits. The restrictions on sodium and non-whole grains were put in place under the Obama administration in 2014, and the state plaintiffs are arguing that the Trump administration did not follow the proper procedure in loosening them.

If your child is eligible for subsidized school meals or you have questions about school lunch requirements, contact a local education attorney.

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