Statement attributed to Luis Guardia, president, Food Research & Action Center
WASHINGTON, November 24, 2020 — The Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) is disappointed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s decision to once again propose a rule that would continue the rollback of the healthy nutrition standards for school meals. Even as the Trump administration officially authorizes a Biden transition, the USDA’s last-ditch effort to sustain existing rollbacks will lead to unhealthy school meal consumption across the country.
Schools began implementing a nutrition standard rollback as a result of a 2018 USDA rule, unraveling the original standards established under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The USDA had to reverse this rollback due to the agency’s failure to follow the law when first promulgating this final rule when it went into effect.
The Trump Administration is now pushing this damaging rule again in this lame-duck period with little regard for public opinion, the voices of families, or research and science that would suggest removing the rule. When the rule was first introduced in 2017, more than 80,000 individuals and organizations, including FRAC, urged the USDA to maintain the current, evidence-based nutrition standards. During the public comment period of the interim rule, 96 percent of commenters opposed changes to the nutrition standards, stating that such “flexibilities are not needed” because there is already “widespread compliance with existing standards.”
Despite the science and the overwhelming public comments against this rule when it was originally introduced in 2017, once again, they are reintroducing a final rule that will scale back whole-grain requirements by reducing the original standard that 100 percent of all grains served in school meals are whole-grain-rich to only 50 percent. The final rule also continues to delay the requirement to further lower sodium levels in school meals.
School meals should be consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, including serving whole-grain foods and limiting sodium and saturated fat. This is especially important because most American children, especially low-income children, do not consume enough fiber and whole grains, and consume too much sodium and fat. In addition, a number of research studies have examined the positive impact of the original healthy school meal nutrition standards on school food offerings, school meal disparities, and student nutrition-related outcomes.
As part of USDA’s effort to railroad this through, there are only 30 days to comment that overlap several widely observed holidays. More time is needed to speak out against a rule that puts the well-being of our children’s health and well-being at risk. During the comment period, FRAC will work with its nationwide network and our national partners to develop and submit comments and seek to protect the health of children.
For 50 years, the Food Research & Action Center has been the leading national nonprofit organization working to eradicate poverty-related hunger and undernutrition in the United States. To learn more, visit FRAC.org and follow us on Twitter and on Facebook.