Meatless Mess: Politics and ‘Business as Usual’ Push USDA to Withdraw Endorsement of Meatless Mondays

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By Seyyada A Burney

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) came under fire this week after an interoffice “Greening Headquarters Update” encouraged staff and cafeteria visitors “to participate in the ‘Meatless Monday’ initiative,” reports a recent New York Times article.

Pressure from livestock groups and Republicans forced the USDA to withdraw support for Meatless Mondays earlier this week. (Photo Credit: www.nytexaminer.com)

Meatless Mondays are part of a joint initiative by the nonprofit Monday Campaign Inc and the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health that encourages switching to healthier, vegetarian meals once a week. The USDA newsletter also championed the environmental benefits of reduced meat consumption. According to the United Nations, the livestock industry is one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases. It also wastes resources, requiring 7,000 kg of grain to produce every 1,000 kg of meat.

Although endorsing Meatless Mondays would appear consistent with USDA objectives to promote sustainable agriculture, and better nutrition and health, responses by livestock producers and at least one member of Congress prompted the agency to withdraw support within hours of posting the newsletter. Iowa Republican, Representative Steve King, angrily tweeted: “USDA HQ meatless Mondays!! At the Dept. of Agriculture? Heresy! I’m not grazing there. I will have the double rib-eye Mondays instead.” A National Cattlemen’s Beef Associationspokesman added that it was “ a slap in the face of people who every day are working to make sure we have food on the table to say, ‘Don’t eat their product once a week’.” They also adamantly disputed the environmental benefits of vegetarian meals, claiming that the meat industry has become more environmentally efficient in recent decades.

Under increasing pressure, the agency retracted its controversial recommendations in an official statement, saying, “USDA does not endorse Meatless Monday.”  To this Peggy Neu, President of the Monday Campaigns, responded, “the USDA is right in the middle of dietary recommendations, so from our perspective it would be a terrific thing if they signed on. Or, I guess I should say, ‘would have been.’”

What do you think about the USDA’s lack of support for Meatless Mondays? Tell us by commenting below!

Seyyada Burney is a Research Intern with Nourishing the Planet.

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