Federal court strikes down Trump administration school nutrition rollbacks

Partner logos

Statement of CSPI policy director Laura MacCleery

The importance of healthy school meals has taken on new urgency during the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. With more than 72,000 school closures in the U.S. affecting at least 37 million children, ensuring students continue to have access to healthy school meals is more critical than ever.

Yesterday, in a critical victory, a federal court struck down a rule by the Trump administration’s U.S. Department of Agriculture that rolled back nutrition standards on whole grains and sodium in school meals on the ground that the USDA failed to provide public notice of its plan to gut the standards. The Center for Science in the Public Interest and Healthy School Food Maryland brought the case in federal court in Maryland, represented by Democracy Forward.

Schools were on track to gradually reduce the amount of sodium in school meals by meeting certain USDA targets over a period of ten years and were also providing more whole grains. In 2017, the USDA issued an Interim Final Rule that proposed delaying these sodium-reduction targets and maintaining waivers from the whole grain requirement, not abandoning these requirements altogether. However, in 2018, the USDA issued a Final Rule that eliminated the third and final sodium-reduction targets for schools and removed the requirement that all grains be whole grain-rich.

In his decision, Judge George J. Hazel of the federal district court in Maryland wrote that “at no point did the Interim Final Rule discuss eliminating the Final Sodium Target” and that the “elimination of the one-hundred percent whole grain-rich requirement” was similarly not a logical outgrowth of the prior rule. Only the “final rule revealed that the agency had completely changed its position,” he wrote.

There is no scientific basis for the Trump administration to reverse the progress schools have been making in reducing sodium and increasing whole grains in school meals. Since the now-invalidated rule was finalized, the recommendations on the permissible level of sodium for children have only been lowered. USDA should update the sodium-reduction targets rather than weaken or remove them. Judge Hazel’s ruling today makes clear that the rollbacks also violated the law.

Contact Info:  Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at]cspinet.org) or Richard Adcock (radcock[at]cspinet.org).