Attorney General Becerra Raises Concerns Over Federal Proposal Attacking Nutrition Standards for School Meals
Applauds state, local, and federal authorities for working together to make school meals available to children during the novel coronavirus state of emergency
SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today joined a coalition of 20 attorneys general in filing a comment letter to express serious concerns with the Trump Administration’s latest proposal to undermine access to nutritious meals for elementary school children across the country. In a proposed rule by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the federal government is attempting to significantly reduce existing standards for healthy vegetables, fruits, and whole grains in school meals. The proposed rule would create loopholes that favor high sodium foods like pizza, french fries, and burgers and runs counter to evidence from a national study the USDA itself published. As school administrators and government authorities across the country work together to provide nutrition assistance in the face of school closures necessitated by the COVID-19 public health emergency, it remains as important as ever that children retain access to nutritious meals.
“During these trying times, the health and well-being of our children remains as important as ever,” said Attorney General Becerra. “At the California Department of Justice, we’re grateful to all of those across the state and nation who continue to fight to ensure that critical services go uninterrupted during this public health emergency. Rolling back nutrition standards that benefit our children everywhere undermines the essential work being done now to sustain our communities.”
School nutrition standards have outsized importance for children's nutrition, as school meals can often be the main source of food for many children across the country. The USDA’s latest proposed rule continues the Trump Administration’s pattern of disregarding evidence to roll back nutritional standards for school meals. On April 23, 2019, the USDA quietly published a national study that found that, as a result of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, children were eating significantly healthier food and waste did not increase. The report also noted that 99 percent of participants in the National School Lunch Program were able to comply with the standards. However, under the proposed rule, the USDA would decrease the size of servings of healthy vegetables in favor of starchy vegetables that tend to be higher in calories and have fewer vitamins. Moreover, some students might be served half the amount of fruit at breakfast that they receive now. The proposed rule would also ignore menu standards that work to address the distinct nutritional needs of children at different stages of development. As a result, some kindergarteners could be served the same kinds of meals as high school seniors, disregarding scientific recommendations around calories and sodium intake. Last year, Attorney General Becerra joined a multistate lawsuit challenging a separate effort by the Trump Administration to undermine school meal nutrition standards. Litigation in that case is ongoing.
Currently, per guidance issued by the California Department of Public Health and the California Department of Education, meal programs operated by schools can continue during school closures. Under a waiver issued for California by the USDA, meals can be served at school and non-school sites and students can take the meals to go. Families who want to be able to access school meals during the COVID-19 public health emergency should check directly with their local school district. For the latest on the state’s COVID-19 preparedness and response, visit https://covid19.ca.gov/.
In filing the comment letter, Attorney General Becerra joins the attorneys general of New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia.
A copy of the comment letter is available here.