In an example of how for-profit corporations manipulate government agencies for their purposes, the National Cattleman’s Beef Association has shown how even the smallest attempt to allow government to serve it’s public mission will not be tolerated, and a conciliatory government agency only too happy to please them.
Mark Bittman’s “No Meatless Monday at the U.S.D.A” in the NYTimes is a must read that demonstrates crony capitalism in action. Upon discovering an interoffice newsletter [pdf] on the USDA’s Web site, J.D. Alexander, the president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), wrote a harsh denunciation of a position taken in this news letter by the Agricultural Department and fired out e-mails to all their constituents and the media to lambast the suggestion that USDA employees practice “Meatless Monday’s” in the department’s efforts to promote environmental practices that help sustain our planet.
“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. USDA was created to provide a platform to promote and sustain rural America in order to feed the world. This move by USDA should be condemned by anyone who believes agriculture is fundamental to sustaining life on this planet.”
This reaction and the self-serving hyperbole in Alexander’s comments are surprising in light of the fact that this was not an attempt by the USDA to encourage all Americans to practice Meatless Mondays. No, this memo was strictly a suggestion aimed at the employees who worked for the U.S. Agriculture Dept. God forbid they should take legitimate action that falls under their authority “to end hunger and improve health in the United States” as stated in their mission statement. A mission statement that also supports Mr Alexander’s claims about it providing “a platform to promote and sustain rural America in order to feed the world.”
That’s right. The USDA serves multiple purposes that not only include all who are connected to food production in this country but a mission that’s also concerned about the public’s health. Yet Mr. Alexander’s reaction is typical of corporate America today. Any government action perceived to diminish profits is seen as “over reach”.
For anyone who truly thinks that a suggestion to improve health by eating less meat is government overreach, they may want to apprise themselves of the research that supports this contention. Bryan Walsh in his TIME piece, “Why It Was Silly for the Beef Industry to Freak Out Over USDA’s ‘Meatless Monday’ Newsletter” notes that “it’s pretty clear that a calorie of beef requires more input in terms of feed, land and water than an equivalent vegetarian calorie. He then quotes University of Minnesota professor Jon Foley who does research on sustainable agriculture.
Much of the grain grown in developed nations goes to feed not human beings but domesticated animals, and inefficiently too — one filet mignon requires 32 lbs. of corn, and converts that grain into calories at just 3% efficiency. Globally we’ll likely need to eat less meat — if only to give parts of the growing developing world space to eat a little meat — and, at least in much of the unhealthily overfed West, eat fewer calories overall. That might help reduce global food waste — one out of every three calories produced globally are never eaten, which isn’t just a waste of food but of water, land and energy.
Most of our processed beef, pork and chicken come from large confined animal feeding operations – CAFOs. Thousands of these animals are packed into tight quarters where they can hardly move and have to be given antibiotics to prevent them from contracting diseases before they are slaughtered and processed for our consumption. Those antibiotics are passed on to consumers which weakens the effect of those antibiotics when humans need them for illnesses. These CAFOs create massive amounts of manure that get improperly disposed of back into water supplies and soils.
When CAFOs housing thousands of animals are geographically concentrated, their environmental and health impacts are concentrated too. Workers, area residents, and the communities located down- stream or down-wind of the animals may find themselves with a lot of problems on their hands. The greatest environmental and health challenges are odor, air pollution, surface and ground water pollution, and antibiotic resistance. “Environmental and Health Problems in Livestock Production” A report from the Agribusiness Accountability Initiative
The truth of the matter is that about half the American population is already aware of “Meatless Mondays” and better than a quarter of those people report they are actively reducing their meat intake. This would explain the NCBA’s consternation that a federal agency would encourage less consumption. Clearly, this over reaction of the NCBA’s leadership makes it appear they are more concerned about beef producer’s profits than they are the overall health of the American public. But to make themselves a lightning rod that would expose them as crony capitalists seems absurd in light of the fact that the interoffice memo at the USDA may have impacted the choices of only a few hundred people at best.
But here’s the kicker. The USDA kowtowed to the demands of the NCBA and pulled the interoffice memo from it’s website. And if this cave-in to the beef industry wasn’t embarrassing enough, some spokeswoman blamed procedural incompetence for the memo that “was posted without proper clearance”. It get’s worse though. To make their back tracking even more pathetic and plant themselves deeper into the back pockets of the DCBA, the department spokeswoman said “the U.S.D.A. does not endorse Meatless Monday”.
The other public servants who rushed quickly and in grand fashion to the aid of the moneyed interests were Senator Chuck Grassley and Steve King, both Iowa congressmen. Their outrage was so over the top that they both vowed to not only eat beef every Monday but to do so in excessive portions that would surely make a cardiologist panic. It’s a pretty safe bet that going to the mat for the NCBA will costs neither of them a cent for their efforts since the Cattleman’s Association will likely continue to supply them with all the prime rib and sirloin their freezers can hold.
Here is the low intellect thinking of some corporate interests, their congressional lackeys and the government over sight agency that should have everyone’s best interest at the forefront. A low impact interoffice memo that is viewed as a major threat to an industry whose stock is already suffering from health conscious consumers, a major U.S. agency who has already catered to corporate special interests many times for decades and two congressional representatives have all lowered their own value and credibility for something that was relatively obscure.
It’s the type of mentality that both sides protest they are not guilty of but are all too quick to demonstrate that this, like most other self-serving comments, are facades for people who value their own self-interests over the public’s. This is what has devolved from the republican form of government given to this nation over two hundred years ago.