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Business Review Board / May 2, 2017

USDA Trashes Onerous Lunch Standards

Good motives don’t excuse government overreach. Fortunately, the USDA is taking note.

The unelected former First Lady Michelle Obama failed to understand a basic economic principle when she imposed her dietary vision on school lunch menus: Mandating anything — in this case “healthy” foods — always backfires in the free market. The added expenses of the mandate in combination with unhappy students who simply trashed their unappetizing meals left myriad school districts with little choice but to abandon subsidized school lunches. No wonder the School Nutrition Association, citing “unintended consequences,” advised the Trump administration to repeal the standards. The suggestion didn’t fall on deaf ears.

This week, newly confirmed Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue formally curtailed the criteria. According to The Hill, “In an interim final rule, aimed at giving schools more flexibility, Perdue and his department are postponing further sodium reductions for at least three years and allowing schools to serve non-whole grain rich products occasionally as well as 1 percent flavored milk. The rule allows states to exempt schools in the 2017-2018 school year from having to replace all their grains with whole-grain rich products if they are having a hard time meeting the standard.”

According to the USDA, “all necessary regulatory actions” will be utilized “to implement a long-term solution.” As Perdue realistically put it, “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.” This is in line with SNA’s Lynn Harvey, who has stated, “What we need are modest modifications to the rules that would enable us to provide foods that children like and will accept.” Obama’s motives may have been well-intentioned. But good motives don’t excuse government overreach. Let kids eat to their hearts’ content. And encourage parents and local school districts to offer a healthier way. That’s how you can achieve actual change, which the Obamas failed to do.

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