USDA ‘Meatless Mondays’ Promotion Creates Firestorm

Published August 30, 2012

Farmers and ranchers are in an uproar after the U.S. Department of Agriculture circulated a memo claiming humans harm the environment by eating meat and urging USDA employees to participate in “Meatless Mondays.”

Resource Waste, Global Warming

USDA officials circulated an interoffice newsletter stating, “One simple way to reduce your environmental impact while dining at our cafeterias is to participate in the ‘Meatless Monday’ initiative. This international effort, as the name implies, encourages people not to eat meat on Mondays.”

The newsletter continued: “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.”

Flawed UN Document Cited

The newsletter appeared to reference a 2006 United Nations document, “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” which asserts livestock production is one of the most environmentally damaging human activities. The document claims “the livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.”

“At virtually each step of the livestock production process substances contributing to climate change or air pollution are emitted into the atmosphere, or their sequestration in other reservoirs is hampered,” argues “Livestock’s Long Shadow.”

One of the authors of the UN document has since admitted it exaggerates the environmental impact of livestock relative to other economic activities. Nevertheless, environmental activists and anti-meat groups have seized upon the document’s claims in order to advocate government restrictions on livestock production and meat consumption.Farmers and ranchers expressed outrage that the federal agency tasked with promoting agriculture is instead spreading dubious environmental activist propaganda vilifying it.

Senator Condemns USDA Claims

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) condemned the letter during a Senate floor statement and asked whether the USDA was allowing the Environmental Protection Agency to dictate agricultural policy. 

“We ought to look at the mission of what the Department of Agriculture is,” said Moran. “[It] is to promote agriculture, to help those who every day go to work to produce food, fiber, and fuel for this country and the world, and yet our own Department of Agriculture is encouraging people not to eat meat.”

“I just would encourage Secretary Vilsack and the officials at the Department of Agriculture to rethink their role in discouraging something that is so vital to the U.S. economy and something so important to the Kansas economy,” Moran added. “We are a beef-producing state and generate significant revenue for Kansas farmers and ranchers, and [this] is one of the items that improves our balance of trade as we export meat and beef around the world. And yet our own Department of Agriculture encourages people not to consume meat.”

Meatless Claims Debunked

“It strikes me as silly, really,” said Levi Russell, director of public affairs for Americans for Prosperity. “What is it about government bureaucracies where they feel entitled to tell you how to live your life?”

Beef industry officials pointed out the flawed premises underlying the Meatless Monday campaign.

“In general, our concern with Meatless Mondays is based on two faulty premises,” said Daren Williams, executive director of communications for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. “They say in their mantra that going meatless one day is better for your health, better for the environment, and frankly, we just don’t believe that is true. The science just doesn’t support that.”

If health is a factor, Williams said, the crusade is ignoring the fact that meatless often means more calories. Substituting black beans for beef triples the number of calories; using soybeans doubles the calorie count, he said.

In addition, he said, “the idea that going meatless is better for the environment is not substantiated by the science.” 

Protests Effect Change

The USDA did not comment for this story, but Williams said the agency eventually “did the right thing” once people protested the newsletter.

“When we called this to the attention of the secretary, they said that it was an internal document and they rescinded it,” he said.

Cheryl Chumley ([email protected]) is a digital editor with The Washington Times’ newest endeavor,