“While a vegetarian diet could have a beneficial impact on a person’s health and the environment, many people are not ready to make that commitment. Because Meatless Monday involves only one day a week, it is a small change that could produce big results,” read the USDA’s internal newsletter “Greening Headquarters Update,” dated Monday, June 23.
The piece — which pointed out that animal agriculture is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and uses up large amounts of resources — was revoked Wednesday after the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) roundly condemned the agency’s anti-meat stance, calling it an “animal rights extremist campaign to ultimately end meat consumption.”
“This is truly an awakening statement by USDA, which strongly indicates that USDA does not understand the efforts being made in rural America to produce food and fiber for a growing global population in a very sustainable way,” said NCBA President J.D. Alexander in a statement Wednesday. “USDA was created to provide a platform to promote and sustain rural America in order to feed the world. This move by USDA should be condemned by anyone who believes agriculture is fundamental to sustaining life on this planet.”
Lawmakers from beef-producing states also criticized the agency’s Meatless Monday endorsement.
“I will eat more meat on Monday to compensate for stupid USDA recommendation abt [sic] a meatless Monday,” tweeted Senator Chuck Grassley Grassley (R-IA) Wednesday.
Grassley’s sentiments were echoed by representative Steve King (R), also of Iowa.
“USDA HQ meatless Mondays!!! At the Dept. Of Agriculture? Heresy! I’m not grazing there. I will have double rib-eye Mondays instead,” he tweeted.
By Wednesday afternoon, USDA’s press center had tweeted the following statement:
“USDA does not endorse Meatless Monday. Statement on USDA site posted w/o proper clearance. It has been removed.”
The announcement was greeted with approval by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
“USDA did right by scrapping this statement and acknowledging the important role of America’s farm and ranch families in providing food for the world,” said NCBA in a statement later that day.
“USDA denouncing support of the Meatless Monday campaign is an important step in correcting misinformation about the safety and sustainability of U.S. beef production.”
The concept of “Meatless Monday” is modeled on a government campaign during World War I that encouraged citizens to conserve food resources by practicing “Meatless Tuesdays,” “Wheatless Wednesdays” and “Porkless Saturdays,” among other food rationing techniques. Now, the concept of “Meatless Mondays” has been adopted as the banner phrase for a war against excessive meat consumption and, by extension, the toll that meat production takes on the environment.
The movement has been supported by well-known actors and chefs, nutritionists, nonprofit organizations and has been adopted at schools and hospitals across the country.
“The fact is, most people in the U.S. eat way more meat than is good for them or the planet,” says Chef Mario Batali, who endorses the meatless day. “Asking everyone to go vegetarian or vegan isn’t a realistic or attainable goal. But we can focus on a more plant-based diet. That’s why I’m such a big believer in the Meatless Monday movement!”
But for supporters of the beef industry, USDA’s temporary backing of Meatless Mondays only served to reignite their opposition to the movement, which was started in 2003.
On Saturday, Senator John Thune of South Dakota issued a warning to USDA and others who support the push to reduce meat consumption in America:
“While I was glad to see the department walk back their support, I hope others will join me in continuing to call out the dangerous claims made about the meat production industry, and support the important role ranchers and cattlemen play in our national economy,” said Thune, according to the Daily Republic. “I look forward to others joining me over the next several Mondays in supporting the products of farmers and ranchers across South Dakota.”© Food Safety News