In one of his first orders of business, President Donald Trump's newly confirmed Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue took steps to weaken school lunch standards championed by former First Lady Michelle Obama.
In an interim final rule, announced by Perdue while he visited an elementary school in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Leesburg, Virginia on Monday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is rolling back nutrition rules that were part of Obama's Let's Move campaign that was abhorred by food industry groups.
Specifically, Perdue is postponing a regulation that would have required schools to lower the sodium content in lunches. The order has also eliminated requirements that schools serve 100 percent whole-grain rich products, and another that forbade sugary, flavored, one percent milk.
As The Hill explains: "Sodium levels in school lunches now must average less than 1,230 milligrams in elementary schools; 1,360 mg in middle schools; and 1,420 mg in high school. Before Perdue's rule, schools were expected to reduce sodium even further to average less than 935 milligrams in elementary schools, 1035 milligrams in middle school lunches, and 1,080 in high school lunches by the week by July 1, 2017. Further reductions were set to take effect by July 1, 2022."
Perdue said the changes would make school lunches "more appealing to students," but parents protesting outside Catoctin Elementary School held signs that read "Children deserve better."
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— Helena B. Evich (@hbottemiller) May 1, 2017
Loudoun parents demonstrating at Catoctin Elem where they fear AG Secy will announce a scaling back of school lunch nutrition standards pic.twitter.com/hgxRcOf42o
— Julie Carey (@JulieCareyNBC) May 1, 2017
Perdue was joined by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who serves as head of the Senate agriculture committee and who has long fought the standards. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Roberts received more than $320,000 in contributions from the agriculture industry between 2011 and 2016.
Notably, NBC reports that the event was held in the school district of Becky Domokos-Bays, president of the School Nutrition Association, who was expected to attend. Her organization, which represents school nutrition directors and companies that sell food to schools, has also lobbied against rules that require kids to eat fruits and vegetables. The aggressive campaign against the nutrition guidelines caused outrage among many of its members who in 2014 wrote an open letter saying they did not want "to return to the junk food school environment."
The changes affect the 2010 legislation spearheaded by Obama, the "Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act," which aimed to improve nutrition and reduce child obesity. In addition to authorizing funding for federal lunch programs, it issued standards calling for more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat milk products, and less sodium and fat. It also rewarded schools that met the standards with additional funding, six cents per healthy lunch.