The Trump Administration Slashed Michelle Obama's School Lunch Rules & Actually Tried To Justify It

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On Monday, the Trump administration announced that it will be rolling back components of Michelle Obama's healthy school lunch program. The Department of Agriculture characterized the move as a way to allow schools "more flexibility" in implementing healthy lunch standards; however, opponents of the rollback, including many Democrats, believe that the move is a step backward toward achieving healthy, nutritious lunches for all of America's school children.

The healthy lunches for which Michelle advocated were part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The New York Times reported that, in accordance with the Act, schools have had to to lessen the number of calories, sodium, and fat in school lunches. They were also required to make more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and nonfat milk available to students who eat meals subsidized by the federal government.

The Department of Agriculture's recent announcement affects some of the requirements mandated by that Act. According to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, the Department has now exercised an "interim final rule" that will allow schools to postpone meeting sodium reduction standards for at least three years. It will also exempt school cafeterias from the whole grain mandate and allow them to serve one percent flavored milk instead of nonfat milk.

In announcing these changes, Secretary Perdue indicated via a statement that the decision came following feedback from schools that were having trouble meeting the nutrition standards.

This announcement is 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 ... if kids aren't eating the food, and it's ending up in the trash, they aren't getting any nutrition – thus undermining the intent of the program.

Perdue's announcement was heralded by Republican Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, as well as by the School Nutrition Association, which has long-referred to the regulations as "overly prescriptive," The Hill reported.

However, the new Department of Agriculture policy was decried by many House Democrats and health organizations, who characterized the move as geared toward satisfying special interests in the food industry and not prioritizing children's needs. On Monday, several Democratic Congress members released a statement condemning Perdue's decision.

Just days into his new job as Secretary of USDA, Secretary Perdue has decided to put special interests ahead of the health of America’s children ... School meal nutrition standards were enacted, on a bipartisan basis, to bring school meals up to date with the latest nutrition science ... However, the USDA and President Trump have now decided to roll back much of the progress we have made in the fight against rates of childhood obesity and malnutrition.

Perdue's decision to roll back nutrition standards for school lunches is clearly highly controversial. Michelle Obama has not commented on the issue herself, but given her strong advocacy on behalf of the healthy lunches program during her husband's presidency, it is highly likely that she would find Perdue's decision unsatisfactory. Only time will tell how profoundly the roll back of school lunch regulations affects America's school children and their access to satisfying, healthy, and nutritious lunches.