States sue Trump admin over rollbacks on school lunch standards

The lawsuit involves nutrition standards championed by Michelle Obama.

April 3, 2019, 5:32 PM

A group of states led by New York is suing the Trump administration over changes it made to school lunch nutrition standards initially championed by Michelle Obama.

“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,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement. “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. My office will use every tool at our disposal to fight back against these shameful rollbacks and ensure our children our protected.”

Five states, plus the District of Columbia, filed a complaint in federal court on Wednesday against the Department of Agriculture and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. The lawsuit argues that the changes to the 2012 school breakfast and lunch standards were rolled back without a required public comment period and that they go against nutrition requirements put in place by Congress.

This is just the latest in a list of lawsuits brought forth by states against the administration in an effort to push back against various policies implemented during President Donald Trump's tenure.

Some of the changes finalized by the Trump administration last year included allowing schools to offer additional milk flavors and curbing Obama-era regulations on sodium limits.

When the rollbacks were initially announced in 2017, Perdue said the move was not intended to diminish nutritional standards.

"I wouldn't be as big as I am today without chocolate milk," Perdue told reporters at the time.

However, following the announcement that the administration was looking to alter the standards, the former first lady spoke at the 2017 Partnership for a Healthier America summit where she said, "You have to stop and think, 'Why don't you want our kids to have good food at school? What is wrong with you, and why is that a partisan issue?'"

"Why would that be political?" she said.

When the Obama-era changes to school lunch standards were introduced and championed by the first lady, the effort faced pushback both on the Hill and in some school districts. In 2014, the House Appropriations Committee voted to let schools choose whether to participate in the program. At the time, that move was seen as a potential first step toward easing standards.

The lawsuit -- brought by New York, California, Illinois, Minnesota, New Mexico, Vermont and Washington, D.C. -- asks the court to put a hold on the administration’s sodium and whole grain standards and alleges that the changes are "not in accordance with the law." According to the filing, last year there were nearly five billion school lunches eaten by nearly 30 million children, while more than 14 million children were given breakfast through the national school and breakfast programs.

“Plaintiff States bring this case to protect the health of the schoolchildren in their States by ensuring that nutritional standards for school meals are not changed without an opportunity to comment on the changes and that, as required by Congress, the standards are based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences, and scientific research regarding children’s nutrition,” the complaint reads.

A second lawsuit was filed Wednesday against the administration by the group Democracy Forward on behalf of the Center for Science in the Public Interest and Healthy School Food Maryland.

“American children are fed too much sodium—raising their risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke,” CSPI Vice President for Nutrition Margo Wootan said in a statement.

“Kids are also getting too much white refined flour and not enough whole grains," Wootan said. "After working for over a decade to improve school nutrition and seeing the tremendous progress that schools are making, it’s heartbreaking to see the Trump administration reverse course. The Trump rollbacks are recklessly putting kids’ health in jeopardy.”

ABC News' Anne Flaherty and Quinn Owen contributed to this report.

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