For a brief period last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture got behind the international “Meatless Monday” campaign by calling on its employees to choose vegetarian options on Mondays. “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out that animal agriculture is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and uses up large amounts of resources — was revoked Wednesday after the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) roundly condemned the agency’s anti-meat stance, calling it an “animal rights extremist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.”

  • sarah

    Such silliness and cowardice from “officialdom”. Truly disappointing.

  • pat simon

    So the USDA is more responsive and responsible to the cattlemen than to the health and safety of the citizens! Shameful. And this while cattlemen are selling off their herds due to feed shortages caused by the drought. They are looking to charge more for any beef we buy blaming drought as the reason for increased prices. If some or all of us do decide to go meatless one day a week, their prices will be lower to match demand.
    Why can’t we citizens have a government that is not beholden to big business?

  • juu

    I don’t understand why USDA cannot endorse whatever they want–unless they are funded by the meat industry? Why isn’t anyone calling out freedom of speech infringement?

  • Interesting to read this Congressman’s (Steve King (R), Iowa) comment (see below) in light of the economic despair so many people in this country are experiencing and considering the huge cut in food stamp funding proposed in the new Farm Bill. Hopefully, he’ll become more in tune with what’s happening across America — including rural America.
    “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.

  • Sara

    Grow a backbone USDA! This instance just reinforces people’s mistrust of both government and Big Ag. Why should the USDA be so pushed around? Who do they answer to and whom do they serve? Apparently not the people or American health, but the pocketbook of Big Ag. It really is shameful.
    Whether they disagree or agree with the statement or recommendation, Big Ag and its government representatives (puppets) acted like a spoiled child when challenged. Name-calling and whining is far from impressive. Maybe Americans could derive health benefits from laying off the meat consumed everyday, and besides, it was just a suggestion!

  • The meat producers remind me of canoeists paddling upstream in white water rapids–desperately holding on to their paddles because they know if they drop one, it’s over for them. They haven’t a clue how much better it would be if they just went with the flow.
    The big meat producers need to embrace change. Not legislate against it; Not ignore it; not use their economic influence to suppress it. They can’t count on everyone being an idiot like King.

  • Carlo Silvestri

    Too much meat and animal product in general has resulted in terrible health consequences. Cancer, hypertension, cardiac problems, diabetes and the list goes on. I guess the USDA doesn’t care about the health of people, only the health of meat producers.
    I join the chorus. Shame on you!

  • Howard

    This proves the USDA has been infiltrated by the Animal Rights People, PETA and other unwholesome people.
    These people are determined to destroy American Agriculture of all types. The USDA needs to be investigated by Homeland Security, these people are nothing more than homegrown terrorists.
    Every Farmer and anyone involved in Agriculture of any kind should be calling for an investigation of thiks corrupt agency.