States sue Trump administration over school nutrition rollbacks

April 10, 2019

A coalition of U.S. state attorneys general is suing the Trump administration for weakening the federal nutrition standards for school meals that are fed to about 30 million children across the country. The coalition contends that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) rollback of sodium limits and whole grain requirements for school meals lacks legally-mandated scientific basis, and, in further violation of law, was adopted without public notice and opportunity to comment.

“Over a million children in New York—especially those in low-income communities and communities of color—depend on the meals served daily by their schools to be healthy, nutritious, and prepare them for learning,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James in a statement announcing the lawsuit. Joining James in the lawsuit are the attorneys general of California, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Vermont.

Last year, the Trump administration gave school lunch administrators more flexibility in serving up refined grains, including white breads, biscuits, and white pastas. The USDA also issued a rule that eliminated the final maximum sodium target and delaying by five years the second intermediate maximum sodium target that had been set for the 2019–2020 school year.

“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,” wrote James.

The School Nutrition Association (SNA), however, supports the December 2018 final rule on school meal flexibilities, which, it claims, aligns with the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) scientific recommendations for updating school meal nutrition standards. Representing 58,000 school nutrition professionals, the SNA “commends USDA’s final rule protecting limits on calories and unhealthy fat, which ensure school meals do not contribute to obesity.”

“SNA appreciates USDA’s efforts to preserve strong standards to benefit students while addressing long-standing challenges to ensure they choose and consume healthy school meals,” said SNA President Gay Anderson in response to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Lawsuit (pdf)

Letitia James statement

SNA statement