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Court Rejects Rollback of School Nutrition Rules

April 16, 2020
Judge's ruling strikes down rule that reversed nutrition standards for sodium and whole grains in school meal programs.

A federal judge has struck down a 2018 Agriculture Department rule that reversed nutrition standards for sodium and whole grains in school meal programs.

The New York Times reports that Judge George J. Hazel of the U.S. District Court in Maryland vacated the rule. He concluded that the violated the Administrative Procedure Act because the 2018 rule differed significantly from the administration’s 2017 interim rule setting up the final standards.

“The court concludes that the rule is not inconsistent with federal law, it does not reflect unexplained and arbitrary decision making, it does not represent an unacknowledged and unexplained change in position, and the U.S.D.A. appropriately responded to public comments,” Hazel ruled. “The court does find, however, that the final rule is not a logical outgrowth of the interim final rule, so it must be vacated.”

The sodium and whole-grain standards were the first of a series of efforts by the Trump administration to roll back school nutrition rules put into place by the Obama administration.

[RELATED: U.S. Agriculture Department sued over relaxation of school nutrition rules]

In 2017, the Trump administration published an interim final rule that extended the time schools had to reduce sodium levels and allowed states to continue granting waivers for the whole grain requirements as long as they could demonstrate hardship in complying. It also gave providers the option to offer flavored low-fat milk.

But when the administration published its final rule in December 2018, it differed significantly from the interim rule. The final rule reset the requirements so that only half of the weekly grains served have to be rich in whole grains, ending the need for waivers, and it eliminated the third sodium target.

The Agriculture Department “did not give the public proper notice of what it intended to do in rolling back the standards,” says says Karianne Jones, one of the lead litigators for Democracy Forward. It represents the Center for Science in the Public Interest and Healthy School Food Maryland in the litigation over the 2018 rule.

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