Recent news about USDA's retraction of its unintentional Meatless Mondays endorsement may be the best thing to happen to the vegetarian movement this year.
Here's how it went down. Someone in USDA's "Greening Headquarters Update" (click to read the bulletin) spoke up in favor of Meatless Mondays.
"One simple way to reduce your environmental impact while dining at our cafeterias is to participate in the 'Meatless Monday' initiative," reads the bulletin.
The "beef bullies"—as vegetarian and vegan bloggers call them—pounced on the memo only hours after its release.
In a predictable press release, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) called into question the USDA's commitment to U.S. farmers and ranchers. But it was this portion of the press release that had me rolling my eyes:
"The USDA cites health concerns related to the consumption of meat. These concerns are not at all based in fact, according to Alexander [NCBA president], but simply spout statistics and rhetoric generated by anti-animal agriculture organizations."
Big beef's missteps
This reaction is what makes the whole debacle so juicy for vegetarians. The meat industry is threatened and resorts to name-calling in its response—something that doesn't work in anyone's favor, not even U.S. presidential hopefuls.
So, who are these "anti-animal agriculture organizations" that have no facts about how red meat can negatively affect health?
The Harvard School of Public Health which released its red meat study in April, finding that too much red meat may shorten one's lifespan.
Widely-respected Dr. Weil, who eats fish and has dedicated his life to counseling others in optimum nutrition, has publicly stated, "I don't believe anyone needs to eat red meat to be healthy."
- The World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research, which concluded in 2007 that "red or processed meats are convincing or probable sources of some cancers." (via WebMd)
NCBA, I think it's time you stopped focusing on PETA.
One day without meat
The bullying worked, because the USDA tweeted later that day: "USDA does not endorse Meatless Monday. Statement on USDA site posted w/o proper clearance. It has been removed."
Is the beef industry so threatened by one day without meat that it resorts to inaccuracies and name-calling? That's public relations gold for vegetarians.
Here's what got the USDA in trouble. By the way, these are facts—not rhetoric from anti-animal agriculture organizations:
"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. It takes 7,000 kg of grain to make 1,000 kg of beef. In addition, beef production requires a lot of water, fertilizer, fossil fuels, and pesticides."
While it's a shame that USDA bent to beef's will so quickly, vegetarians are making themselves heard loud and clear about how silly the whole situation appears. This in turn makes the meat industry look like someone who still thinks global warming is a conspiracy.
The Meatless Monday organization was gracious to the news, pointing out that "cutting out meat once a week helps achieve two key recommendations in the USDA Dietary Guidelines— reducing saturated fat intake and increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables."
It's time to face the facts. Thanks, USDA, for accidentally bringing awareness back to the issue.
What do you think about USDA's Meatless Monday retraction? Let me know in the comments.