After complaints from the beef industry, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has withdrawn support of Meatless Monday, stating that their newsletter article supporting the campaign to get people to eat vegetarian one day a week was unauthorized.
The USDA's July 23, 2012 employee newsletter, Greening Headquarters Update, includes a suggestion to participate in Meatless Monday as a way to lessen one's environmental impact. The article correctly states:
The production of meat, especially beef (and dairy as well), has a large environmental impact. According to the U.N., animal agriculture is a major source of greenhouse gases and climate change. It also wastes resources. It takes 7,000 kg of grain to make 1,000 kg of beef. In addition, beef production requires a lot of water, fertilizer, fossil fuels, and pesticides. In addition there are many health concerns related to the excessive consumption of meat.
The United Nations' report "Livestock's Long Shadow" details the many negative impacts of animal agriculture on the environment.
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association responded with a press release in which their president said that Meatless Monday is "an animal rights extremist campaign to ultimately end meat consumption." In reality, Meatless Monday has nothing to do with animal rights, but is a non-profit initiative of The Monday Campaigns, in association with the Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health. The Monday Campaigns, of which About.com is a participant (sign up for About.com's free Healthy Monday newsletter here), is a "national movement backed by leading public health schools that dedicates the first day of every week to health," including exercise and anti-smoking campaigns. Sadly, after complaints from agribusiness interests, the USDA removed the article from their website and tweeted that it had been posted without proper clearance.
The influence of the meat and dairy industry's lobbyists within the USDA is widely known. For example, the Harvard School of Public Health explains how their nutrition advice differs from that of the USDA because HSPH's advice "is based exclusively on the best available science and was not subjected to political and commercial pressures from food industry lobbyists." HSPH also points out that the USDA "recommends dairy at every meal, even though there is little if any evidence that high dairy intakes protect against osteoporosis, and there is considerable evidence that too-high intakes can be harmful."
The whole controversy is reminscient of the incident in 2010 when an intern at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency posted a blog advocating vegetarianism. The meat industry got upset over that one too, but the EPA allowed the blog to stand with their standard disclaimer that the opinions expressed were solely those of the author.
Food writer Mark Bittman attempted to interview both the NCBA and the USDA, but both declined. In a column in the New York Times, Bittman criticized the USDA, which is charged with protecting the interests of the public as well as agribusiness, for allowing an industry lobby group to dictate their policies, and wrote, "The U.S.D.A., sadly, is incapable of telling people (even its own employees) that eating less meat would be beneficial. Even though it is not a trade organization like the N.C.B.A., it is beholden to trade organizations and their political representatives."