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Six States Are Suing Trump Administration for Weakening School Nutrition Standards

The Attorneys General are accusing the USDA of failing to "give the public notice of and an opportunity to comment on the 2018 changes."

Months after Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue lowered school nutrition standards around the country, seven Attorneys General are challenging the legality of the move.

A 2010 law signed by President Obama led to the adoption of new nutritional standards in 2012. To be eligible for federal funding, school districts are required to serve meals that met those standards.

In December, Perdue announced three changes to those standards in the name of “flexibility” for school districts.

First, schools would be allowed to serve flavored low-fat milk, reversing the current rule that mandates flavored nonfat and white low-fat options only. Second, it would allow schools to serve up to 50 percent non-whole grains. Currently, only schools that apply for a waiver are allowed to serve any non-whole grains. Third, it would put the brakes on progressively smaller allowable sodium levels that are scheduled to take effect in the coming years.

All three changes are scheduled to go into effect on July 1, in time for the 2019-2020 school year.

The Attorneys General are accusing the USDA of failing to “give the public notice of and an opportunity to comment on the 2018 changes” as required by the Administrative Procedure Act.

They’re also accusing the Department of making these changes in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner without basis in nutritional research, the updated standards established in a 2009 study by an agency-convened panel of experts, or the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences.

In a statement announcing the effort, New York Attorney General Letitia James accused the Trump Administration of undermining “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.”

California, Vermont, Illinois, Minnesota, New Mexico, Minnesota, and the District of Columbia joined New York in the complaint.

In the complaint, they point out that a disproportionate number of poor children and children of color depend on breakfasts and lunches served at school. The negative health effects associated with the proposed changes will fall onto those vulnerable populations.

The School Nutrition Association, a non-profit organization representing school nutrition officials across the country, released a statement reiterating its support for Perdue’s changes, complaining that meeting the existing sodium standards “will present major challenges and may not be possible.”

Their statement did not elaborate on those challenges or argue that fewer whole grains and more sodium would have a negative impact on the health of students who depend on school lunch.