US government gets legal over NSLP

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The federal government is fighting back against seven US states that have objected to new, relaxed rules for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), reports Amelia Levin

A new brief filed in a New York district court by the current administration’s US Department of Agriculture could lead to a ruling that would give more power to the federal government when it comes to setting or relaxing nutrition requirements for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). The brief fights an earlier filing by seven states that sued the government, arguing recent changes have made lunches less healthy for children, Reuters first reported.

No legal standing?

Earlier in April, New York, California, Illinois, Minnesota, New Mexico, Vermont and the District of Columbia sued agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue over changes that relaxed the requirements for whole grains and allowed more sodium in meals, which has allowed schools to have more flexibility to replace things like brown rice with more refined grains in the form of noodles and tortillas, Reuters reported.

The most recent brief argues that states have no legal standing (under a doctrine called “parent of the nation”) to object to the recent changes, even if they argue federal policies are harming children.

This new ruling “recognizes that a state has no legal interest in protecting its citizens from the federal government, and that only the United States, not the states, may represent its citizens and ensure their protection under federal law in federal matters,” US attorney Geoffrey Berman said in the filing, which also challenges Perdue’s statement that there is no proof that children at 4,100 schools have suffered adverse health consequences.

Low-cost or no-cost

The NSLP is a federally subsidized meal program operating in public and non-profit private schools and residential child care institutions that provides nutritionally-balanced, low-cost or no-cost lunches to children in need. The program was established in 1946 under the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act, signed into law by president Harry S. Truman. Last year, schools served 4.8 billion lunches to children nationwide.

When it comes to impact on design, foodservice consultants say the legal disputes have little impact on their work. New school foodservice designs continue to focus on durable equipment with more cooking and refrigeration pieces for fresh food and from-scratch meals.

“In most of our school projects we are designing work stations that allow for the prep of more fresh ingredients and we are definitely seeing more scratch cooking,” says Eric Norman FCSI, vice president, Midwest division, Clevenger Associates. “Most districts we work with are balancing meals between pre-made products and scratch cooking, but almost all of them are working towards a majority of the fresh produced meals. The students tend to enjoy the scratch cooked meals better than the pre-made products.”

FCSI Senior Associate Garrett Lennon, principal at JLR Design Group, agrees, and has seen other noticeable changes in the K-12 equipment and supplies (E&S) segment caused by evolving menus.

“In the past few years we have a seen greater desire for flexibility of the overall design and in the equipment selections for school foodservice programs,” he says. “We are designing and specifying more mobile equipment rather than the ‘monuments’ we used to see for areas like prep stations and serving lines. Any equipment that can be on casters, is. This not only helps with the daily and deep cleaning processes, but it gives the operator the ability to shift things around to better suite their needs based on the task at hand.”

Amelia Levin