ermont joined a multi-state lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture Thursday challenging the weakening of federal nutrition standards for school breakfasts and lunches.
The coalition of states in the suit contend that the rollback of sodium limits and whole grain requirements was not based on scientific nutrition standards, as is legally required. They also took issue with the change being made without public notice or a public comment period.
“By weakening these nutritional standards, kids will be eating meals that aren’t as healthy,” Attorney General TJ Donovan said in a statement. “I take seriously the health of all Vermont children, and I will fight back against these nutrition rollbacks.”
In Vermont, 46,000 kids participated in school lunch programs last year, and 25,000 participated in school breakfast programs, eating more than 11 million total school meals, according to a press release from the AG.
Natalie Silver, community outreach and policy coordinator for the attorney general’s office, said although she hopes Vermont schools would maintain high nutrition standards without strict regulations, the suit would make sure they do.
“It’s not like all of the sudden tomorrow the food in Vermont schools will be entirely not nutritious,” Silver said. “But we do think these standards were set for a reason, and we don’t see a good argument for making these meals less healthy.”
The federally-subsidized National School Lunch Program, created in 1946, was last updated in 2010, with the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. The policy was a response to a study showing students’ daily sodium intake “clearly was excessive,” and that whole grain consumption was “extremely low.”
After the USDA reviewed the rule, and over 133,000 public comments, the department issued updated school meal standards in 2012, with interim and final limits for sodium, and increased whole grain requirements.
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The Trump administration’s dismantling of those standards in 2018 eliminated the final maximum sodium target and delayed the second intermediate sodium target by five years, which was originally set for the 2019-2020 school year. It also halved the whole grains requirement.
The USDA said in December, when they announced the change, that it would give school districts more flexibility.
“If kids are not eating what is being served, they are not benefiting, and food is being wasted,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement. “We all have the same goals in mind — the health and development of our young people. USDA trusts our local operators to serve healthy meals that meet local preferences and build bright futures with good nutrition.”
Joining Donovan in the suit are the attorneys general from New York, California, Illinois, Minnesota and the District of Columbia.