Newsletter causes flap
over 'Meatless Mondays'
The head of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack sparred briefly over "Meatless Mondays."
The flap happened when an internal USDA employee newsletter promoting "Meatless Mondays" was made public and NCBA got wind of it.
J.D. Alexander, a Nebraska cattleman who is president of the NCBA, said that if the agency embraces a "Meatless Monday" concept, it "calls into question the agency's commitment to U.S. farmers and ranchers."
Alexander said his organization would not remain silent as USDA "turns its back on cattlemen and consumers."
A "Greening Headquarters" newsletter within the agency told employees that "one simple way to reduce our environmental footprint while dining at our cafeteria is to participate in the 'Meatless Monday' initiative," which the NCBA calls an "animal rights extremist campaign to ultimately end meat consumption."
Alexander said the statement in a USDA employee publication "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."
The July 23 newsletter posting criticized meat consumption, citing the United Nations, and claimed that production of meat, especially beef and dairy "has a large environmental impact" and "wastes resource."
"These concerns are not at all based in fact but simply spouted statistics and rhetoric generated by anti-animal agriculture organizations," he said, adding that the carbon footprint for production of beef has dramatically decreased as a result of innovative environmental stewardship implemented by America's farm and ranch families throughout the country.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack quickly apologized personally to the president of the NCBA and said the document was not only pulled from the website, it was edited and re-sent to USDA employees without suggestions that meat production was bad for the environment and human health.
"We appreciate USDA's swift action in pulling this disparaging statement off its website," said Alexander in response.
The USDA said the item had been posted without proper clearance and was removed the same day they learned of it.
"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. 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," Alexander said.
He cited a study from Washington State University that found today's farmers and ranchers raise 13 percent more beef from 13 percent fewer cattle today compared to 30 years ago.
When compared to beef production in 1977 each pound of beef raised today produces 18 percent less carbon emissions, takes 30 percent less land and requires 14 percent less water, he said.
"Today's cattlemen are significantly more environmentally sustainable then they were 30 years ago and when it comes to health, beef has an amazing story to tell," Alexander said.
GOP SENATORS WADE IN
In the wake of the Meatless Monday gaffe, a group of Republican Senators from the West sent a letter to Vilsack and told him such a newsletter raises serious concerns about USDA priorities and about the values held by those in the agency.
"The underlying issue is that there is a culture at the Department that would allow this to happen. That a newsletter was released promoting a radical environmental agenda - with no insight that USDA works with animal agriculture as well - is truly disturbing," said Sen. Mike Crapo, (R-ID.)
"As a senator and part of a family cattle operation, I am appalled by the employee newsletter at the U.S. Department of Agriculture that promoted 'Meatless Mondays' and used United Nations material to discourage the consumption of beef," said Idaho Senator Jim Risch. "Here is a federal agency that was specifically created to promote nutritious American farm products, yet during a time when beef producers are facing severe drought and high feed costs, they advocate for an action that causes further harm."
In addition to Crapo and Risch, the letter was signed July 27 by Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Dean Heller (R-NV), Mike Johanns (R-NE), Mike Lee (R-UT), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Pat Roberts (R-KS), and John Thune (R-SD).