Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue eats lunch with students at Catoctin Elementary School in Leesburg, Va., on Mondayto mark School Nutrition Employee Week. Photo courtesy of the USDA
May 1 (UPI) -- The U.S. Agriculture Department plans to roll back nutrition standards for federally subsidized school meals because some food is "ending up in the trash."
The changes will reverse parts of former first lady Michelle Obama's healthy eating initiative. The Trump administration also is ending her "Let Girls Learn" program that offers educational opportunities for adolescent girls in developing countries
"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," Agriculture Secretary George "Sonny" Perdue said Monday at an elementary school in the Washington suburb of Leesburg, Va.
It was first major act in the Cabinet for Perdue, who was sworn in Tuesday.
The Agriculture Department said "greater flexibility in nutrition requirements" will go into effect in the 2017-18 school year.
In 2012, the Obama administration toughened standards on nutrition that schools had been required to follow in order to receive federal reimbursement for free and reduced-price meals for low-income students.
Perdue's proclamation restores local control of guidelines on whole grains, sodium and milk in the the National School Lunch Program. It did not spell out changes with fruits, vegetables and protein.
"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," Perdue said in a release.
According to USDA figures, school food requirements cost school districts and states an additional $1.22 billion in Fiscal Year 2015.
"A perfect example is in the South, where the schools want to serve grits," Perdue said. "But the whole grain variety has little black flakes in it, and the kids won't eat it. The school is compliant with the whole grain requirements, but no one is eating the grits. That doesn't make any sense."
The Obama standards specified whole grains instead of other types. USDA will allow "flexibility" in requiring grains.
The USDA will allow flavored 1 percent milk instead of the non-flavored variety and greater sodium levels.
"I've got 14 grandchildren, and there is no way that I would propose something if I didn't think it was good, healthful and the right thing to do," Perdue said, adding that schools will have more flexibility. "These are not mandates on schools."
In another reversal, Obama's "Let Girls Learn" program was ended immediately, according to an internal document obtained by CNN.
It was an inter-governmental initiative run with Peace Corps and the United States Agency for International Development.
"Moving forward, we will not continue to use the 'Let Girls Learn' brand or maintain a stand-alone program," read an email sent to Peace Corps employees this week by the agency's acting director, Sheila Crowley.
"'Let Girls Learn' provided a platform to showcase Peace Corps' strength in community development, shining a bright light on the work of our volunteers all over the world," Crowley wrote. "We are so proud of what 'Let Girls Learn' accomplished and we have all of you to thank for this success."
A spokesman for the Peace Corps said Monday the agency would continue its efforts toward girls' education.