Latest Update April 13, 2020

VICTORY: Federal Court Vacates Trump Administration’s School Nutrition Rollback

A court ruled that the USDA violated the Administrative Procedure Act by making changes it had not sought feedback on when it gutted sodium and whole-grain requirements in the final rule.

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In December 2018, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue gutted nutrition standards to the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs—programs that respectively serve approximately 30 and 15 million children each day. The Trump administration’s new rule substantially weakened nutrition standards concerning the amount of whole grains and sodium served in school meals and unlawfully defied the legal requirement that the nutrition standards be based on established nutrition science.

The Trump administration’s actions harm children nationwide. Children who fail to receive proper nutrition (including diets high in sodium and low in whole grains) are at greater risk of developing a variety of health consequences, including heart disease, hypertension, heart failure, kidney disease, and stroke.

These lowered nutrition standards for school meals impact the over 22 million students who receive free and reduced meals, many of whom are low-income and consume up to half of their daily caloric intake from school meals.

This effort to diminish the nutritional requirements of school meals is not only bad policy, but it also violates the National School Lunch Act and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). USDA failed to provide a reasoned explanation for rolling back the nutrition standards, abandoned the congressional requirement to align school meals with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and did not adequately respond to the more than 85,000 public comments generated by the rule—a vast majority of which favored keeping intact the original 2012 standards for sodium (96 percent) and whole grains (97 percent).

On behalf of the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Rockville, MD-based nonprofit Healthy School Food Maryland, we filed suit to stop the Trump administration’s gutting of the sodium and whole-grains standards. A coalition of states, led by New York, challenged the same rule in the Southern District of New York.

On April 13, 2020, we won our lawsuit and successfully vacated the Trump administration’s rule to gut nutrition standards. The court found that the USDA’s final rule was not a “logical outgrowth” of its proposal: USDA had eliminated crucial sodium targets and slashed whole-grain requirements without seeking feedback from the public and in violation of the APA.

January 2012

USDA finalizes science-based school nutrition requirements.

To align school meals with science-based nutrition standards and improve the health of school-age children, the prior administration, at the direction of Congress in the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA), issued a rule requiring schools participating in the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs to phase in three sodium reduction targets and require 100% whole grain-rich foods. The rule, finalized in 2012, also increased the amount of fruits and vegetables on kids’ lunch trays and set limits on saturated and trans fats—changes required to meet basic nutrition standards prescribed by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

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April and May 2017

Following his confirmation as Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue begins touting the purported need for “flexibility” in meeting these nutritional standards.

November 2017

USDA publishes an Interim Final Rule (IFR) delaying compliance with the second sodium target, and making it easier for schools not to meet the whole grain-rich requirements.

December 2018

USDA publishes final rule gutting nutrition standards.

April 2, 2019

We—alongside a coalition of states led by New York—filed suit, alleging the administration’s attempts to undermine the nutrition standards are unlawful.

August 2, 2019

We filed our motion for summary judgment

As kids head back to school, our motion shows how the Trump administration unlawfully ignored legal requirements to align school nutrition standards with established nutrition science and nutrition recommendations—without providing a reasoned explanation and without responding to the 99% of public comments opposing the rollbacks.

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The American Heart Association, MomsRising, American Public Health Association, FoodCorps,the National Education Association, and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine filed two amicus briefs which highlight how “nutritionally sound school meals are vital in fighting childhood hunger, promoting lifelong health and wellness, and preparing our students to learn” and how detrimental to children’s health the administration’s rejection of science-based nutrition standards was.

APRIL 13, 2020


A federal court vacated the USDA’s rollbacks of school lunch nutrition standards, agreeing that the rule was finalized in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act because it was not a logical outgrowth of the interim rule.

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Karianne Jones

Senior Counsel

Litigating cases on issues involving, among other things, gender justice, civil rights, and workplace justice.

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Kristen Miller

Senior Counsel

Litigating challenges to unlawful actions involving civil rights, health care, consumer protections, and more.

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Aman George

Senior Counsel

Challenging unlawful actions and abuses of power related to the environment, healthcare, and good governance.

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