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Office of the Vermont Attorney General

Attorney General Donovan Joins Suit Over Gutting Key Nutritional Standards for School Meals

April 4, 2019

Contact: Natalie Silver, Community Outreach and Policy Coordinator, 802-828-3171

Joining a multistate coalition, Attorney General T.J. Donovan today announced a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for illegally weakening key federal nutritional standards for school breakfasts and lunches. In Vermont, 46,000 children participated in the school lunch program and 25,000 children participated in the breakfast program last year. The coalition contends that the USDA’s rollback of sodium limits and whole grain requirements for school meals, lacks legally-mandated scientific basis, and was adopted without public notice and opportunity to comment.

Attorney General Donovan said: “By weakening these nutritional standards, kids will be eating meals that aren’t as healthy. I take seriously the health of all Vermont children, and I will fight back against these nutrition rollbacks.”

Established in 1946, the National School Lunch Program is a federally subsidized program that provides students with healthy, balanced meals in schools at low- or no-cost. In 2018 in Vermont, 46,000 children participated in the school lunch program and over 25,000 children participated in the breakfast program. Those children consumed over 11 million school meals in 2018.

Over the years, Congress has acted to ensure that the National School Lunch Program’s nutritional guidelines keep current with the best scientific evidence. The most recent modernization of the Program occurred in 2010 with the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 was a response to a Food a Nutrition Board study showing that the daily sodium intake for schoolchildren “clearly was excessive.” The same study showed “extremely low” daily consumption of whole grains. The Act directed the USDA to issue revised nutritional standards for school lunches and breakfasts. After public notice and extensive comment on the proposed rule – over 133,000 public comments were considered – USDA in 2012 issued new, updated nutritional standards for school meals. These updates included, for the first time, interim and final limits for sodium, as well as a requirement increasing the whole grains in school meals. In accordance with federal law, the standards set for sodium and whole grain were consistent with the recommendations of the Food and Nutrition Board study.

Despite the substantial improvement of nutrition in schools across the nation, in 2018, the USDA issued a rule that dismantled key nutrition standards set by the 2012 Rule, eliminating the final maximum sodium target, delaying by five years the second intermediate maximum sodium target that had been set for the 2019-2020 school year, and cutting in half the whole grains requirement. In issuing the rule, the USDA failed to explain how the changes to the sodium and whole grain nutrition standards for school meals were, as required by law, “consistent with of the goals of the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans” and “based on” the Food and Nutrition Board study’s recommendations. Further, the 2018 rule was neither issued as a proposed rule nor was the public provided an opportunity to comment on it.

Joining Attorney General Donovan in the lawsuit are the Attorneys General of New York, California, The District of Columbia, Illinois, Minnesota and Vermont. The lawsuit was filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Last modified: April 4, 2019