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Six States Are Suing Over Weakening School Nutrition Standards

school lunch tray

In 2010, President Obama signed a law that led to new nutritional standards and regulations for schools in this country. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act led to new standards, which went into effect in 2012. For school districts to be able to qualify for federal funding, schools had to serve meals that met the new standards. The standards included limiting schools to serving 1% white milk, reduced portion sizes, minimum mandates on fresh fruits and vegetables, minimum mandates on whole grains, and maximum mandates on how much sodium, sugar, and fat could be included in school meals.

The standards were part of a large initiative that focused on childhood nutrition and obesity. But after President Trump took office, his Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, a former veterinarian, and politician announced changes to three of the nutrition standards. Now, six states are suing the Trump administration over the proposed changes.

Perdue has proposed changes to the milk, whole grain, and sodium mandates in the previous law. If the changes go into effect as scheduled on July 1, schools would be allowed to serve flavored low-fat milk and serve up to 50% non-whole grains. Additionally, it would eliminate the limits on allowable sodium levels. California, Vermont, Illinois, Minnesota, New Mexico, Minnesota, along with the District of Columbia, are joining New York Attorney General Letitia James in the lawsuit against the Trump administration.

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The Attorneys General for the states involved in the lawsuit says that Perdue and the Trump administration failed to give enough public notice and opportunity to comment on the changes, which is required by the Administrative Procedure Act. They also accuse the USDA of making the changes without basis in nutritional research and without the recommendation of the National Academy of Sciences.

The states point out in the complaint that poor children and children of color disproportionately receive and depend on free breakfast and lunch at school, and that the proposed nutrition changes and the negative health associations with those changes would fall to those vulnerable populations.

Perdue and the USDA have the support of the School Nutrition Association, a nonprofit organization that represents school nutrition officials in the US. The SNA says that meeting the sodium mandates as they currently stand would present major challenges to schools and may not be possible.

They do not elaborate on what those challenges may be.

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