A posted announcement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture caused quite a stir on Wednesday when it appeared to embrace the “Meatless Monday” campaign until it heard from the beef industry. Oops!
The agency briefly lapsed into “sanity” — or “disparagement”, depending on your point of view — when it promoted the health benefits of Meatless Mondays as well as a “simple way to reduce our environmental impact while dining at our cafeteria.” This temporary endorsement referred to the growing global healthy living campaign led by the non-profit The Monday Campaign and the John Hopkins School of Public Health encouraging all to embrace healthy, environmentally friendly meat-free alternatives.
Shortly after being heckled by none other than the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), the self-identified “voice of the beef industry,” the USDA press team urgently tweeted this message to anyone who cared to listen: “USDA does not endorse Meatless Monday. Statement found on USDA website was posted w/o proper clearance. It has been removed.”
Thanks, USDA! We got it — the agency does not support healthier options for Americans who would benefit from eating less meat and serious environmental problems caused by meat production are of no interest to the agency. We certainly will not bring up the egregious animal cruelty that often goes on at industrial-sized farms and exposed only by undercover cameras.
NCBA’s comments, to which the agency responded immediately, reflect just how much this lobbying bully packs in punch. NCBA’s initial press release referred to Meatless Mondays as an “animal rights extremism campaign.” In a classic move, the beef producers’ group decried USDA’s apparent lack of understanding of “rural America.”
Whenever industry groups, like the beef producers here, trump out “rural America,” they want to impart the vision of idyllic red barns and pastures where animals graze in the sun, a place that exists for the large part only in the collective imagination and is inconsistent with the reality of industrialized meat operations. A realistic portrayal of meat production would undoubtedly leave an acrid aftertaste. After all who wants to see thousands of animals raised in cramped confined spaces or support an industry with an out-sized carbon footprint and adverse impacts on health. Such vivid imagery has propensity to change consumer behavior and Public Relations 101 dictates that industry stick with the pastoral simulacrum.
Reading NCBA’s press release is “educational”, if nothing else. The industry group wants us to know that health concerns related to meat consumption “are not at all based in fact” and they are nothing more than “statistics and rhetoric generated by the anti-animal agriculture organizations.” Who knew that the MayoClinic and the John Hopkins School of Public Health are not only extremist animal rights organizations but also promoters of useless rhetoric!
After USDA hastily withdrew its unauthorized comment, NCBA welcomed the agency back into the fold in a second press release with approving comments like “the agency is important to all cattlemen and women” and “USDA did right by scraping this statement.” Giddily, the organization announced that “USDA denouncing support for Meatless Monday campaign is an important step in correcting the misinformation about the safety and sustainability of the U.S. beef production.”
What NCBA calls misinformation, however, most people would call facts. So here are some resources to get you started on your Meatless Monday:
Meatless Monday campaign site.
ChoseVeg — the name says it all.
Environmental Working Group’s Eat Smart Guide.
The Pew Environmental Group’s Big Chicken Report.
Friends of the Earth Factory Farming Hidden Impact Fact Sheet.
GMO Journal Article on Pollution on Factory Farms.