‘Meatless Monday’ spurs responses from opponents, supporters
Leaders from the top five beef-producing states in the country have circled the wagons in defense of the beef industry, after a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) interoffice memo endorsing “Meatless Mondays” was made public in a July 23 USDA online newsletter, “Greening Headquarters Update.” (See related article, 1A).
The USDA soon made amends and announced it does not endorse the movement, but not before the issue was addressed on the U.S. Senate floor and several press releases and letters were written, both in favor of and against the issue.
U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas questioned the timing of the statement and even addressed the U.S. Senate July 26. See http://www.youtube.com/senatorjerrymoran for video.
Moran asked U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to clarify why the USDA “is demonizing the consumption of meat at a time when our nation’s food and livestock producers are struggling under the worst drought since 1956.”
“I have requested that Secretary Vilsack let me know if it is now USDA’s official policy to discourage the consumption of American-grown meat,” Moran said. “It is my hope that the USDA has not abandoned farmers and ranchers in pursuit of policies best left to the Environmental Protection Agency.”
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association first blasted the USDA newsletter and responded with data in defense of the U.S. cattle industry.
After the USDA pulled the newsletter, the national beef association issued a second release July 25, stating, “We appreciate USDA’s swift action in pulling this disparaging statement off its website. ... The agency is important to all cattlemen and -women, especially as we face unprecedented challenges, including drought and animal rights extremist groups spreading fiction to consumers who need to know the importance of beef in a healthy diet.”
While the national cattlemen’s group was more appreciative of the USDA’s action in pulling the newsletter, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and U.S. Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and Chuck Grassley of Iowa responded in different ways.
Staples wrote in a blog July 26, “Fire The Ones Responsible,” “I’m in full agreement with America’s beef and dairy industries as they call bull on USDA. ...
“Last I checked, USDA had a very specific duty to promote and champion American agriculture. Imagine Ford or Chevy discouraging the purchase of their pickup trucks. Anyone else see the absurdity? How about the betrayal? ...
He said the best apology might be “to fire the person or persons responsible for distributing these treasonous comments. Why should our hardworking beef producers be paying the uninformed enemy’s salary? ... Shame on you, USDA. You deserve all the bull you get.”
Cornyn and Grassley celebrated “Meat Monday” on July 30 and Cornyn released the following statement: “In some of the toughest times they’ve seen in recent memory, Texas cattle ranchers and farmers deserve an administration who works with them, not one who undermines them with boneheaded decisions from bureaucrats in Washington.”
While “Meatless Monday” has been a campaign used by animal rights groups to condemn the consumption of meat, others not related to these groups also endorse “Meatless Monday,” including Dr. Michael J. Klag, dean of the Bloomberg School of Public Health, who sent a letter to Vilsack July 27 endorsing the endeavor.
“First, Meatless Monday is not ‘anti-agriculture,’ as stated in the criticism by the industry,” Klag wrote. “There are many types of producers involved in agriculture, not just meat producers. ... The campaign simply states that, just one day a week, consumers should replace one agricultural product with another to improve their health. Such a recommendation is a positive statement intended to benefit all Americans, including the majority of agricultural producers.
“Second, increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables in a weekly diet, as suggested by Meatless Monday, conforms to the Dietary Guidelines recently issued by USDA.
“Third, just this week USDA released estimates of the increased cost of meat and dairy products as a result of the drought. USDA estimates that beef prices will increase by as much as 5 percent, dairy products by as much as a 4 percent, eggs by as much 4 percent, and pork by 3.5 percent. Eliminating meat one day a week is a practical way for Americans to keep their escalating costs in line with their household budgets.”
Here’s the beef
While Klag supported “Meatless Monday,” the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the nation’s largest contractor of the Beef Checkoff program, in a July 25 press release touted how producers care for the environment, too.
“Today’s cattlemen are significantly more environmentally sustainable than they were 30 years ago,” said association President J.D. Alexander. “A study by Washington State University found that today’s farmers and ranchers raise 13 percent more beef from 13 percent fewer cattle. When compared with beef production in 1977, each pound of beef produced today produces 18 percent less carbon emissions; takes 30 percent less land; and requires 14 percent less water. When it comes to health, beef has an amazing story to tell. Beef is a naturally nutrient-rich food, helping you get more nutrition from the calories you take in,” he said.