USDA Denies Science and OKs More Salt, Fewer Whole Grains for School Meals

Administration Ignores Its Own Finding That Gutted Nutrition Rules Would Harm Children

As Students Head Back to School, CSPI and Healthy School Food Maryland Fight to Protect Kids’ Health


WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, the Center for Science in the Public Interest and Healthy School Food Maryland, represented by Democracy Forward, filed a Motion for Summary Judgment in their lawsuit against the Trump administration’s unlawful rollback of key nutrition standards for meals served as part of the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs. As students begin the new school year, the administration’s illegal action puts their health in jeopardy as some school districts across the country— such as Ventura, CA— intend to serve children meals with more salt and fewer whole grains, based on the administration’s rollback of standards designed to protect kids’ health.

Today’s filing asserts that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) violated the law by weakening school meal nutrition standards that had previously required decreased sodium levels and increased the amount of whole grains to be served in school meals. The new weakened standards put approximately 30 million children, including approximately 22 million low-income children, at greater risk of health issues associated with diets high in sodium and low in whole grains.

“By wresting healthier school meals from some 30 million school children, the Trump administration is showing contempt for children, parents, science, and the law,” said CSPI vice president for nutrition Margo G. Wootan. “Congress requires school meals to be based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and the science on sodium has only gotten stronger since the last Guidelines. The court should make clear that any rule that defies dietary advice and undermines the health of kids must be fixed.”

The Trump administration unlawfully ignored statutory requirements to align school nutrition standards with established nutrition science and nutrition recommendations provided in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Not only did the Trump administration weaken nutrition standards and allow schools to serve more sodium and fewer whole grains than is recommended by nutrition scientists, but they did so without providing a reasoned explanation and without responding to the 99% of public comments opposing the rollbacks.

Nutritionists are clear that excess consumption of sodium puts individuals at risk of high blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Likewise, the consumption of more whole grains is correlated with reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Despite these facts, the Trump administration provided no good reasons for abandoning these healthy nutrition standards in favor of less healthy alternatives.

“Parents have expressed their concerns to us that these rollbacks undermine their confidence in the healthfulness of the food being served in area schools; the uncertainty makes it difficult for us to educate and arm parents with accurate facts. How do we tell our kids that the food they’ll get in school doesn’t need to meet the health standards all Americans should be striving for?” said Fania Yangarber, Executive Director of Healthy School Food Maryland.

“As millions of school children across the country return to the classroom, they will be fed more salt and fewer whole grains because the Trump administration decided to sever the link between school nutrition standards and actual nutrition science.  That’s not just wrong — it’s unlawful,” said Democracy Forward Executive Director Anne Harkavy. 

The case is filed in United States District Court for the District of Maryland in Greenbelt, MD.

# # #

Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes Executive Branch activity across policy areas, represents clients in litigation to challenge unlawful actions, and educates the public when the White House or federal agencies break the law.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest is America’s food and health watchdog.

Healthy School Food Maryland is a coalition of over 5,600 members across the state of Maryland, including parents taking a leadership role at their children’s school, promoting delicious, fresh, whole and nutrient-rich foods in schools.

Press Contact:

Charisma Troiano
(202) 701-1781