USDA says it never meant to endorse ‘Meatless Mondays’

Newsletter to employees suggested vegetarianism is healthier, better for environment.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has pulled an internal newsletter that suggested employees consider reducing their meat consumption, following a backlash from groups representing the meat industry.

The newsletter, titled “Greening Headquarters Update,” described initiatives department employees could take to reduce energy use and waste. Suggestions included participating in a program called Meatless Mondays, an international event created by the nonprofit group The Monday Campaigns and the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. The newsletter has been removed from USDA’s website, but is still viewable at the website of Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan. 

According to the newsletter, meat consumption has a large environmental impact. The article cited a United Nations report that said farmers require 7,000 kilograms of grain to produce 1,000 kilograms of beef, along with large quantities of energy, pesticides and water. Several U.N. agencies, including the Food and Agricultural Organization and the U.N. Environmental Program, have published reports in recent years linking higher meat consumption with climate change.

“In addition,” the newsletter said, “there are many health concerns related to the excessive consumption of meat. 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.”

Groups representing the meat industry were outraged by the newsletter’s content. In a statement distributed by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, President J.D. Alexander lambasted the department’s stance.

“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,” Alexander said. “USDA was created to provide a platform to promote and sustain rural America in order to feed the world.”

Moran also posted a statement on his website directed at Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, asking if it was the department’s policy to endorse diets without “American-grown meat.”

He noted: “American farmers and ranchers deserve a USDA that will pursue supportive policies rather than seek their further harm.”

Earlier this year, USDA released requirements for school lunches that reduced the amount of meat and meat equivalents required in school lunches.

Stephanie Chan, a USDA spokeswoman, clarified in an email to Government Executive that the department does not endorse “Meatless Mondays” and the newsletter, now removed, was posted without proper clearance.