by Marion Nestle
Jul 26 2012

USDA supports Meatless Monday? Not a chance.

I was asked by a reporter yesterday for comment on the press release issued by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) in response to USDA’s announced support of the Meatless Monday campaign.  


My immediate reaction: It’s pretty unbelievable that USDA would support Meatless Monday. Where’s the USDA statement? [see addition below]

The NCBA press release said:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) recent announcement that the agency embraces the “Meatless Monday” concept calls into question USDA’s commitment to U.S. farmers and ranchers. USDA stated “one simple way to reduce our environmental impact while dining at our cafeteria is to participate in the “Meatless Monday” initiative.”

NCBA said Meatless Monday “is an animal rights extremist campaign to ultimately end meat consumption” and “NCBA will not remain silent as USDA turns its back on cattlemen and consumers.”

Without having seen what USDA said, I told the reporter:

If USDA is really supporting Meatless Monday, that’s big news. Historically, the USDA has worked hand in glove with the meat industry and has firmly resisted suggestions that it would be healthier for people and the planet to eat less meat.

The meat industry complained that the 2010 dietary guidelines pushed seafood and that meat got lost in protein in MyPlate, so they are supersensitive to this issue. Anyone who has ever been to a feedlot or industrial pig farm knows that the environmental issues are huge. You can smell them from miles away.

And what did the USDA actually say?  Oops.  Mistake.

According to the Boston Globe:

The Agriculture Department says a statement on its website encouraging its employees not to eat meat on Mondays was made without proper clearance.

The posting earlier this week was part of an internal newsletter that discusses how staff can reduce their environmental impact while dining at the agency’s cafeteria.

….USDA spokeswoman Cortney Rowe says the department does not endorse the “Meatless Monday” initiative, which is part of a global public health campaign.

Apparently, the USDA pulled the statement within minutes after the NCBA statement went out. 

How did USDA announce this to the public?  On Twitter!

USDA MT @usdapress: USDA does not endorse Meatless Monday. Statement on USDA site posted w/o proper clearance. It has been removed // @FarmBureau

 Food politics in action!

Addition, June 27: Here’s the original USDA Newsletter that caused all this fuss.  Scroll to page 3.

  • renita

    I have to shake my head at the complete overreaction to the very IDEA! of Meatless Monday — that going without meat one night a week will somehow lead to the downfall of an industry. How many days are there in a week, again?

  • Gee

    Baloney! They still talk about it in this report on their website!

    Oh, wait. That’s from World War II. 🙂

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  • Vicki

    I just want to say “thank you” Marion for all you do and especially this blog. I only check in from time to time, and I’m always amazed at the goings on. I’ve learned so much here, but mostly I am just grateful that we have someone like you who monitors this insanity and reports on it so clearly and insightfully.

  • FarmerJane

    Personally, I find some aspects of the Meatless Monday movement as it is expressed in NYC to be rough on the farmers of our state. Here in NY, we have gone from 30,000,000 acres of farmland when I was a kid to just 7,000,000 now. So much of the abandoned land is former dairy and grazing land…suitable for grazing, but not so much for growing fruits and vegetables. Cornell has detailed the some 3,000,000 acres of grazing and hay lands that stand abandoned in NY in their report called “Green Grass, Green Jobs”. Their recommendation is that encouraging small farms to grow livestock on those lands would be good for the environment. The reasoning behind this is that grazing farms in NY equate to biodiversity, preservation of open space, unfragmented habitat, watershed protection and in some cases holding off subdivision. This is all while allowing rural economies to make a living.
    New England Farmers Union is talking about the carbon sequestration abilities of the grazing lands of the Northeast even suggesting that farmers may be in a position to sell carbon credits if they manage grasslands properly to optimize carbon sequestration, soil conservation and biodiversity. NY Audubon has highlighted the loss of NY’s grassland bird species as the grazing farms are abandoned. Yes, the Northern Harriers, the boblinks and other ubiquitous birds of the meadow in NY are in trouble.
    THEN…..when I try to talk with the Meatless Monday crowd in NYC, I find myself first wiping their spit off of my face before I can even begin a conversation. They quote Bittman to me, they say how dairy farms are torching the planet, how I probably own a cow-torturing CAFO and more. They accuse me of raping cows, being in it for “the money” and much more.
    How can there be a middle ground? The same goes for the nation’s 750,000 cow/calf operations, that average some 40 cows per farm. Yes, you can see them when you fly over America, just look down. Everywhere across the land there are smaller farms and ranches. But….if your livestock are sold into a commodity market, ultimately going into a feedlot before on to one of the Big Five meat processors…you, the farmer or rancher…are suddenly cast as a “meat harlot”. Poof!….find a way to sell the meat directly to a consumer by being near an urban area or maybe getting a little cooperative going and you become a darling to the farmers market crowd.
    Does anyone have any thoughts as to how the conversations can be taken to a higher level of analysis. That’s the only way that I see any way out of this mess.

  • Peggy Holloway

    “Meatless Mondays” is an inane idea based on the myths that meat-eating is unhealthy and ecologically damaging. There is no evidence for either belief, and many of us need to eat meat for optimal health. The USDA supports many nonsensical guidelines, such as eating “healthywholegrains” which are everything but and endorsing consuming low-fat diets, so to stay out of the business of making dietary recommendations altogether would be preferable. However, I am glad that they are not endorsing “meatless mondays.” Their endorsements usually result in people doing very unhealthy things, and for those of us with carbohydrate resistance and IR, avoiding meat and eating the recommended alternatives (foods high in grains, sugars, and starches) is a deadly choice.

  • FarmerJane

    I wonder if the Meatless Monday believers have ever thought of the farmers and ranchers themselves? I tweeted with some meatless monday people who told me that if they can drop demand for the products of my farm by 1/7 they will be doing me a favor beacuse it means that my land can lie fallow one out of seven days a week. I guess I would have to ask them if they would let their office space lie fallow 1/7 of the week, or maybe their store or whatever, or perhaps take a paycut of 1/7? There needs to be some serious engagement with the average farmers and ranchers. Proclaiming to us that the Meatless Manhattanites always know what is best is seriously lacking. Suggestions anyone?

  • Higher meat prices resulting from this year’s drought may help people learn how to reduce meat consumption without feeling — or being — nutritionally deprived. We should not be afraid to cut back to the levels of meat consumption enjoyed in other industrialized countries, whose health stats — and cuisines — are as good as or better than ours.

  • Beenie

    When I can’t afford pasture-raised meats, I go without. I will not support CAFOs, whose evilness is ruining our environment and our health with dirty meat. I will not buy CAFO meat until these operations are finally cleaned up and made truly sustainable. If that means I have to go without meat one or two times a week, so be it. It’s not going to kill me to have a vegetarian meal a few times a week. It’s worked well for the health of India for a few thousand years.

    I feel for those ranchers who believe they have no other options than to sell their product to CAFOs, but I tend to think this practice is still ongoing stemming more from tradition and laziness than financial need. Many ranches here in Colorado have made the successful transition from selling out to CAFOs to selling directly to the consumer and keeping their animals on their lands. Lasater Grasslands Beef is our Shining Star in this matter, and I’ve been a customer of theirs for a very long time.

  • Peggy Holloway

    Thank you farmerjane for your wise and well-articulated comments. I am from Nebraska, where my SO use to own a ranch. I spent many delightful hours on that beautiful land where his calf/cow pairs so idyllically grazed. I have also cycled through the sandhills of Western Nebraska, and I guarantee the “anti-meat-eating” crowd that the land there is not suitable for any other use. I maintain that the land is natural prairie grass, the perfect food for cattle and other grazing animals, and that the land has been used for that purpose for tens of thousands of years. The animals can digest and use the grasses for food and fuel, while humans cannot. However, the animals convert the grass to a form of fuel that humans can use, one that is the optimal fuel for human physiology, that is meat! A large proportion of human populations are not adapted to grain consumption which is relatively new to human history. Hence, the epidemics of insulin-resistance related health problems, such as high blood sugar, blood pleasure, coronary heart disease, many forms of cancer, and obesity, not to mention the behavioral disorders and neurological disorders such as ADHD, depression, and most likely Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. I simply don’t understand why so many are “drinking the kool-aid” and pushing for people to drop their meat consumption when it is so easy to understand the science that humans cannot handle grain based diets.

  • John

    Well, some low level employee cuts and pastes some inane drivel on a campaign they heard about on Dr Oz into an internal newsletter. That action then puts the meat lobby into overdrive. I hope the meat industry is being billed by the hour by their lobbyists.

  • FarmerJane

    I have tried on a few occasions to speak with the Meatless Monday people based out of NY, but haven’t gotten far. So, I’m wondering if there is anyone else who has an opinion. The USDA newsletter sparked outrage among the nation’s farmers at the grassroots level. Like me, some of have tried to speak with the meatless monday organizations and either get no response or a canned answer.
    I would like to know: What do the meatless monday proponents see as the role of the country’s 3/4 of a million beef farms in the US? These are the farms you see in virtually every state….hobby farmers, mid-sized livestock operations, a small herd (statistics say average is 40 cows) of beef cows in conjunction with some other type of farming on up to very large ranches with thousands of head. A huge percentage of these operations end up selling into the feedlots and then on to the big processors.
    . While the US is exporting the more expensive cuts of beef, imports of cheaper meats from overseas jumped up some 27% in first quarter 2012 (up to some 174,000 metric tons). Wherever I travel, I meet livestock farmers who lend vitality to local economies of little towns, are doing business with a host of support businesses, etc. As Peggy Holloway mentioned, grasslands not readily usable for cropping provide big swaths of cattle nutrition in some parts of the country. One environmentalist, Jonathan Foley recently suggested that putting bigger sections of land into grasslands/grazing as opposed to cropping would be beneficial for the environment.
    Yet, these farmers seem to be invisible or of no consequence to the meatless monday organizations. Could someone clarify to me what the vision of the meatless monday people is for rural America? I welcome some serious thought here. Beenie has mentioned a ranch that sells direct. Some of us in the northeast have been talking small cooperatives to market more “dairy beef” to NY consumers, basically raised on the grasslands of NY. Farmers markets currently occupy a tiny percentage of potential models. What would you like to see for the future of US cow/calf farms and ranches. (I’m sure some of you hope for their extermination as numerous vegans have shrieked at me when I ask in public, but anyone else?)

  • I’m glad to see some farmer comments, but perhaps they don’t go far enough to reconcile the situation. Globally, livestock make 40% of farm income, and it’s especially important for the poor (& 80% of the undernourished are rural, 70% of the pop. of Least Developed Countries). Buying more meat that is grassfed directly from farmers is especially needed (Forage-Fed Fridays). Unfortunately, decades of cheap corn and other feedgrains/soybeans has made forage-fed more expensive relative to grainfed, as in the case of New England described in comments. Livestock help conservation when they are part of resource conserving crop rotations (forages, hay, not just grain). They save fossil fuels (ie. vs mechanical planting, manufactured sprays, ditto fertilizing, harvesting, etc.).

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  • Anthro

    Peggy, it would be nice if you could occasionally comment without reciting your personal (and scientifically unsupported) diet concerns.

    Meatless Monday in no way impinges on anyone’s right or desire to eat flesh foods non-stop. It’s simply a way for those who are concerned to try to make a difference.


    Farmer Jane, I am appalled at the abuse you have endured from MM and hope it does not represent the entire campaign. I appreciate your sharing the initiatives under consideration in NY and your reasoned approach to the dilemma of the small farmer. I am mostly vegetarian–but do occasionally eat a bit of meat, obtained from a fairly local small, independent bison ranch. They ship in coolers packed with dry ice and have a pretty good business going out of their small ranch. I could get it a little cheaper at Whole Foods, but I like it that I’ve visited this ranch and know the owners a bit. Since I don’t eat that much, the price isn’t the critical factor.

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  • The environmental impact is not from meat, it’s from the horrible conditions and foods they feed these poor animals.

    Are we supposed to believe that when the buffalo, elk, deer and all the other animals that once roamed the great plans and forests of this nation in the hundreds of millions had a negative impact on the environment? Also, it was so bad that the soil was so fertile from these animals would eat the vegetation, poop the seeds, planted them while walking on these seeds, and urinating on them to help them grow?

    And the chemicals and mutated vegetation and the mono-cropping and the fertilizers that were originally designed to kill humans in WWI that are spread over the land now, to grow corn and soybeans has no environmental impact? Are we supposed to swallow this pill?

    Well….. I guess people do, but not this guy.

  • FarmerJane

    Hi, John. Meat is produced in a variety of ways in the US depending on the type of meat and the region of the country. There is great diversity in models of production ranging from the average cow/calf operator (I gave statistic above of 40 cows average herd size, 750,000 farms that have beef cows on the premises) to the giant CAFO. Example, there is a proposal for a 72,000 beef cow CAFO here in NY. This would stand in absolute stark contrast to the average size dairy farm that we now have of 100 cows per farm, spread over 5,400 farms. UNFORTUNATELY…..there is close to zero coverage in urban media and Indy media about the great variety in regional production. The usual shrill HuffPo and Grist articles focus exclusively on complaining about giant CAFO’s. So, most people are not aware of this diversity in meat produciton across type of meat and region unless they actually get out into countryside to visit friends or relatives. I would urge more ag media coverage and not just the shrieky elitist misinformed Mark Bittman stuff that people in NYC read and then shout at me about.

  • Hi,

    I am a MSc student the University of Exeter Business school and I am writing my thesis on meat consumption and sustainability in the meat industry.

    I would really appreciate if you could fill out my short questionnaire consisting of one page of multiple choice questions about your consumption patterns and purchase preferences.

    Thank you.


  • A study by Washington State University found that today’s farmers and ranchers raise 13 percent more beef from 13 percent fewer cattle.”
    One of the main reasons for that high productivity in beef production is the use of growth hormones. In fact, the NCBA has stated that more than 90 percent of U.S. beef cattle receive hormone implants. The following sex hormones are routinely implanted in U.S. beef cattle: zeranol, trenbolone acetate, progesterone, testosterone and estradiol to accelerate growth and thus increase productivity. Residues of those hormones are known to end up in the food supply, most likely in beef and other meats. The EU and some other countries have banned importation of hormone-treated beef from the U.S.
    The NCBA employs a prestigious law firm to deal with issues of what it calls “crisis management,” that is, anything that might cause bad publicity for the cattle industry; for example, the firm has been praised for its successful handling of the mad cow disease issue, which has, as a result, disappeared from the media, although mad cow disease still exists. The NCBA favors Republicans for its political “contributions.” I avoid beef as much as possible because I’m always concerned about my health. It’s unfortunate that we need to avoid beef because of the way it’s produced because, otherwise, it was a nutritious food.