Angry politicians took to Twitter this week after an internal memo recommending employees of the USDA participate in Meatless Monday as a way of reducing personal environmental impact drew ire from wealthy beef producers.
Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, for example, tweeted on Wednesday that he “will eat more meat on Monday to compensate for stupid USDA recommendation abt a meatless Monday,” and fellow Republican Senator John Thune expressed his opinion that Meatless Monday is an “Anti-[agriculture] agenda.”
What got the farmland senators so riled up? The New York Times reports that the original newsletter posted on the USDA’s website read, in part, “One simple way to reduce your environmental impact while dining at our cafeterias is to participate in the ‘Meatless Monday’ initiative.” The memo explained further:
“How will going meatless one day of the week help the environment? The production of meat, especially beef (and dairy as well), has a large environmental impact. According to the U.N., animal agriculture is a major source of greenhouse gases and climate change. It also wastes resources. It takes 7,000 kg of grain to make 1,000 kg of beef. In addition, beef production requires a lot of water, fertilizer, fossil fuels, and pesticides. In addition there are many health concerns related to the excessive consumption of meat.”
But long and short term environmental and resource-use awareness, even combined with knowledge of the detrimental health effects of over-consumption of factory-farmed red meat, couldn’t compete with the lure of the dollar. As Dan Mitchell of CNN’s Fortune points out, “The USDA was created to both promote and to regulate the same industry. Whenever its health-and-environment mission is pitted directly against its promotion mission, promotion usually wins.”
A (properly cleared, apparently) USDA press team employee tweeted at the Farm Bureau, “USDA does not endorse Meatless Monday. Statement found on USDA website was posted w/o proper clearance. It has been removed.”
Though saddened that the USDA backed down, we applaud the original memo’s intent and hope that, officially or not, some employees did get the message. When even the prosciutto-loving Mario Batali endorses Meatless Monday, there’s got to be some hope. Don’t let Chuck Grassley win; take the pledge yourself or, if you already eat meatless, suggest it to someone you care about.