By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Several U.S. states sued the Trump administration on Wednesday to undo its recent decision that allowed fewer whole grains and more sodium in school breakfasts and lunches.
The states accused the U.S. Department of Agriculture of ignoring federal dietary guidelines and scientific research on children’s nutrition when it eased rules championed by former first lady Michelle Obama to make school meals healthier.
New York, California, Illinois, Minnesota, New Mexico, Vermont and the District of Columbia said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue acted in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner, and asked a Manhattan federal judge to void the new sodium and whole grain standards.
“The Trump administration has undermined key health benefits for our children . . . with deliberate disregard for science, expert opinion, and the law,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement.
Spokespeople for the Department of Agriculture did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The changes announced last Dec. 6 affect the federally funded National School Lunch Program, which was started by President Harry Truman in 1946 and feeds more than 30 million, mostly lower-income children.
They are among a series of White House-supported efforts to roll back federal regulatory oversight that President Donald Trump considers burdensome to business and economic growth.
The changes included cutting in half the amount of whole grains required to be served starting in the 2019-20 school year, affording schools more flexibility to offer noodles, tortillas and other foods containing mainly refined grains.
They also included a five-year delay in the maximum sodium target scheduled for the next school year, and elimination of a sodium target set for the 2022-23 school year.
Perdue has said his agency was committed to nutritious meals in schools, but the changes acknowledged the “challenges” that schools face serving appetizing yet healthy meals, while ensuring that food would not be wasted.
Other changes included allowing schools to serve low-fat chocolate milk, rather than fat-free milk.
The new rules set aside requirements under the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which Michelle Obama had supported in her fight against child obesity.
It had set new limits for calories, sodium and trans fats, while requiring more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Excessive sodium intake has been linked to heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke, while relatively higher refined grain consumption has been linked to type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
The case is New York et al v. U.S. Department of Agriculture et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 19-02956.