A coalition of Democratic attorneys general announced a lawsuit on Wednesday accusing the Trump administration of “illegally weakening” school nutrition standards.
The suit seeks to stop the administration from rolling back Obama administration guidelines for school breakfast and lunch – policies championed in part by former first lady Michelle Obama.
“The Trump Administration has undermined key health benefits for our children – standards for salt and whole grains in school meals – with deliberate disregard for science, expert opinion, and the law,” New York Attorney General Letitia James James said in a statement announcing the suit.
New York was joined by California, Illinois, New Mexico, Vermont and Washington, DC, in the lawsuit brought against the Department of Agriculture as well as Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service.
The USDA said it does not comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit claimed the USDA did not provide the legally required opportunity for comment when it issued a final rule in 2018 that eliminated an expected “final maximum sodium target,” delayed an “intermediate maximum sodium target” and cut the whole grain requirement in half.
The suit also said the changes from the 2018 rule “were not based on tested nutritional research, the latest Dietary Guidelines, or the 2009 Nutrition Board Study, as required by statute,” and were therefore invalid.
The lawsuit contended that the Trump administration’s move was ill-considered and that by weakening nutrition standards for school meals, the programs would affect students disproportionately from low-income families and students of color, groups for whom the suit noted the meal programs are particularly important.
The suit said the 2018 rule illegally reversed a 2012 Department of Agriculture rule aimed at making school food healthier. The 2012 rule was the result of a 2010 law promoted by then-first lady Michelle Obama.
The changes were the target of students online unhappy with school meals and of criticism by Republicans. Early into President Donald Trump’s tenure, some critics called for the new administration to roll back the guidance.
Later in 2017, Perdue signed a proclamation to relax standards and said in a release at the time that it was the result of “years of feedback from students, schools, and food service experts about the challenges they are facing in meeting the final regulations for school meals.” Perdue said further that when children declined to eat the food in compliance with the rule, it undermined “the intent of the program.”
The announcement led to the former first lady rebuking the administration and questioning criticism of the nutrition standards.
“You have to stop and think, ‘Why don’t you want our kids to have good food at school? What is wrong with you, and why is that a partisan issue?’” Obama asked.
CNN’s Elizabeth Hartfield, Susan Scutti and Betsy Klein contributed to this report.