U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack called the leader of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association to assure livestock producers the federal agency will not be promoting something called “Meatless Mondays.” Colin Woodall of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association says the episode started Wednesday.
“It definitely caught us by surprise. What we found out is there was an internal employee newsletter that was actually posted publicly on the U.S.D.A. website that did talk about ‘Meatless Mondays’ and promoted it,” Woodall says. “Unfortunately, ‘Meatless Monday’ is an activist campaign against cattle producers and all livestock producers, so we were pretty shocked to see the one department that’s out there supposedly representing us actually being against us.”
The U.S.D.A. newsletter suggested employees could avoid eating meat on Mondays as “one simple way to reduce your environmental impact while dining at our cafeterias.”
“Thankfully, the secretary stepped up, provided a lot of leadership and shut down that at entire proposal,” Woodall says, “so we’re very thankful that this ended up in a good light.”
But that “shut down” didn’t happened before the proposal stirred up a tempest on Twitter. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley tweeted: “Shame on U.S.D.A.” and he vowed to eat more meat on Mondays to “compensate for stupid U.S.D.A. recommendations.” Steve King — the Republican congressman who is being challenged in November by Christie Vilsack, the wife of U.S. Ag Secretary — called “Meatless Mondays” in the U.S.D.A. cafeterias “Heresy!” King also vowed that he would eat a “double rib-eye” on Mondays.
Woodall, who is the vice president of government affairs for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, says Vilsack told the group the “Meatless Mondays” blurb in an employee newsletter was posted by one person, without proper clearance.
“Secretary Vilsack called our president, J.D. Alexander, and talked to him about the situation. He made it very clear that that was posted without the proper approvals, which we were very thankful to hear that,” Woodall says. “But again, because of his leadership in stepping in, he was able to pull that down and really kind of reestablish the faith we have in U.S.D.A. being kind of a partner and protector of agriculture.”
Woodall says his organization has been vigilant in checking the backgrounds of people appointed to key positions within the U.S.D.A., to ensure no one with an agenda against eating meat is in a position to “come after” livestock producers.
“Things like ‘Meatless Mondays’, the Humane Society of the United States — a lot of these extremist activist groups that are against livestock producers and cattle producers are becoming more mainstream and viewed as being mainstream,” Woodall says. “And when you have a population that’s more and more and further, further removed from where their food comes from, it’s easy for them to get a hold of folks and give them bad information and convince them otherwise, so that’s why we have to stay vigilant and know where these proposals are popping up and do everything we can do to shut it down.”
Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat, made light of the episode this morning during a conference call with Iowa reporters.
“The Catholic Church for all the time I’ve been growing up never ate meat on Fridays. Hm. I never thought about that,” Harkin said. “Well, we need, ‘Fishless Fridays’ now or something like that because we’re depleting the fish in the ocean and that’s getting to be a problem.”
Harkin, who hadn’t heard of the incident until a reporter on the call asked him about it, told reporters he eats less meat in personal diet.
“I don’t eat as much meat as I used to. I grew up eating meat three times a day,” Harkin said, laughing. “You know, we just don’t eat that way anymore. We used to. I still consume my fair share, but not as much as I used to, I can tell you that.”
However, Harkin’s annual fundraiser is called “The Steak Fry” and supporters are served a grilled piece of meat.