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Senator Seeks to Ban Nonexistent 'Meatless Monday' Policy at Agencies

USDA in 2012 briefly encouraged employees to eat vegetarian once a week on a voluntary basis, but its cafeterias never stopped offering meat, and they are currently closed due to the pandemic.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, this week introduced legislation that would ban federal agency cafeterias from serving only vegetarian fare, despite the fact that no agency has ever actually done this and many food service facilities are closed due to the pandemic.

The Telling Agencies to Stop Tweaking What Employees Eat Act (S. 1082) apparently stems from a brief controversy at the Agriculture Department nearly a decade ago. In 2012, the department sent employees a newsletter encouraging employees to consider going one day per week without eating meat as part of Meatless Mondays, a campaign to raise awareness about the environmental impacts of meat production.

“When I hear calls from the liberal left—everyone from out-of-touch politicians to Hollywood elites—encouraging people to ban meat and the quality agriculture products we produce here in Iowa, it makes me sizzle,” Ernst said in a statement announcing her legislation. “Our federal agencies shouldn’t be encouraging people to ban agricultural products at the expense of America’s hardworking farmers and producers. Congress needs to make its intention known that we should get ‘Meatless Mondays’ and other types of activist bans against agricultural products out of our government dining halls.”

There has never been a “ban” on meat at federal agencies, however. The Agriculture Department’s 2012 newsletter raised the hackles of congressional Republicans and the meat lobby. Following the outcry, the department quickly retracted its suggestion, which would have been voluntary, and meat has been available for purchase at its dining halls on any day the cafeterias were open.

“The Meatless Monday campaign is not endorsed by the United States Department of Agriculture,” the department wrote on its website in 2019. “Rather than prescribing how and what one should eat, the USDA, like other federal agencies, follows the science-based recommendations of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which promote flexible eating patterns chosen by the individual based on the food patterns in the guidelines.”

A USDA spokesperson told Government Executive that the cafeteria at its Washington, D.C., headquarters would be serving meals containing meat every day of the work week, were it actually open.

“The main USDA cafeteria at the South Building in D.C. and the cafeterias at other USDA locations are currently closed due to COVID-19,” the spokesperson said. “There are limited food options available at some facilities. Under normal operations, meat would be available throughout the week in cafeterias.”