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The Beef Industry's View of Meatless Mondays

by: Jill Richardson

Tue May 05, 2009 at 10:00:00 AM PDT


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Dr. Robert Lawrence, Director of Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, has called on President Obama to re-institute "Meatless Mondays," a practice taken up by previous presidents in which they ate no meat and served no meat in the White House on Mondays. It would also involve calling on Americans to do the same and providing meatless recipes each Monday on their website.

While in the past this was done because of the U.S. war effort in World Wars I and II, in this case Dr. Lawrence made the request to promote better health and better environmental practices by decreasing meat consumption. In fact, if America reduced its factory farmed meat consumption by 1/5, it would be the same effect on global warming as every American instantly swapping their cars for Priuses.

And yet... despite the well-documented health and environmental problems associated with factory farmed meat (not to mention food safety problems and human and animal rights problems), the beef industry thinks this call for Meatless Mondays is absolutely ridiculous. Read on to see what they said...

Jill Richardson :: The Beef Industry's View of Meatless Mondays
I listened to an interview of Shalene McNeill, the Executive Director of Human Nutrition Research for the National Cattlemens Beef Association (NCBA), on the April 23 episode of Agritalk, the Fox News of food.

Host: These people calling for this are basically trying to say we would be healthier if we did away with meat and it would also help the environment. I mean, they're... they're using this - the environment, climate change, everything else, all these arguments that we're hearing so much today - they're trying to use that as a basis to get people and to get the President to urge Americans to not eat meat on Mondays.

NCBA: Yeah, and I think if you really look back to previous references in history where this has been done it's very telling because these previous examples are actually recognizing the power of beef nutrients, recognizing that high quality protein and those essential vitamins and minerals and preserving that for those people, namely the soldiers that were fighting to protect our country, that they needed it the most. So, the current rationale isn't nearly as strong.

Host: Yeah, let's break this down in both aspects here. One, these claims that we'd be healthier without meat in our diets basically and... I'm looking here, they're saying that moderate reductions in meat consumption will mitigate climate change, lessen fossil fuel dependence, conserve fresh water, help reduce the chronic, preventable conditions that today kill 70% of all Americans: cancer, obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. In other words, blaming all of these things on meat in our diets. Let's look at it from a health aspect. The benefits of meat in our diet.

NCBA: Sure, you know, obesity and chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease are very complex diseases and they are caused and associated with a lot of different issues. No one food can cause or cure any disease...

I disagree there. What about citrus and scurvy?

NCBA: ... and what we know, what the science is very clear on is that when beef is part of a balanced and healthy diet, it actually helps people make it easier to get their essential nutrients, it reduces the risk of obesity and heart disease, it helps people manage their weight, it also helps them stick to a healthy diet. It's a lot easier to eat the dietary guidelines when you're including beef as part of that.

I would LOVE to see some independent research that proves ANY of these claims.

Host: We all know, a balanced diet, moderation, these are things, these are personal choices obviously we make as part of eating healthy but they're putting out... really... the implication here is that you're gonna be so much healthier and you can avoid a lot of these diseases and other problems if you're taking meat out of your diet.

NCBA: You know and that's just not the case. It's clear that when individuals are consuming beef it's actually easier - especially when they are trying to eat fewer calories (which most of us are these days) - it's so much easier because of beef's nutrient rich package to actually meat the guidelines.

Except for the parts of the guidelines that say things like "limit saturated fat intake." Beef makes that part harder to achieve.

Host: What would you say to people that hear something like that [the call on Obama to declare Meatless Mondays] or are even questioning in their mind "Would that be a good idea or not?" What would you say to that?

NCBA: I think most people are concerned not only about eating a nutritious, wholesome diet but also doing what they can do to protect the environment.

Bingo! That's why I went vegetarian. Did you happen to see the study "Diet, Energy, and Global Warming" by researchers at the University of Chicago that showed that a vegan diet resulted in the least amount of greenhouse gas emissions, and that diets heavy in beef were essentially like driving SUVs? Or the other recently released study showing that people who ate red meat (including pork) every day had increased rates of mortality?

NCBA: ... and beef is certainly a diet they can include in their diet every day and feel like they are doing something for both of those aspects.

I cannot disagree more. Especially the recommendation to eat beef every day. Meat, particularly beef, is something to be consumed in moderation if at all. You don't need it every day.

Host: That is a message that doesn't get out... they're not bringing that up at all.

Because it's not true.

Host: They oughta be stressing, if they're really concerned about people's health, to say "Hey, meat is a big part or an important part of a healthy diet."

Sure, it can be (but doesn't have to be) but only if you buy it from a farmer you know who raises their animals on pasture and you eat it in moderation - much less than the average American. The kind of meat you're advocating for isn't good for anybody.

NCBA: Absolutely! I mean, I think, just when you think about the nutrients in beef - a three ounce serving of lean beef has less than 180 calories but it contributes more than 10 vitamins and minerals in good or excellent quantities. So these are nutrients we're often short-changing ourselves on.

Do you know anybody who eats beef in 3 oz servings? I mean, really, have you been to a steakhouse lately? And the notion that beef is so necessary because it has lots of vitamins... I've got a news flash. ALL whole foods contain vitamins and minerals. But they don't all contain saturated fat.

Next the host asked her how to respond if the Meatless Monday camp said that they aren't advocating for vegetarianism, just one day per week without meat.

NCBA: Well the first thing is is there's often a misconception that Americans are overconsuming meat and that just simply is not the case.

Because we are. And look at the health effects it's had.

NCBA: On average we're eating about 2.3 ounces of red meat per day. That's well within current dietary guidance. So first of all we're not overconsuming it.

That conveniently leaves out pork, turkey, chicken and fish, doesn't it? The actual amount of meat we ate per day in 2006 was 5.3 ounces on average. And yes, that's still within the recommended 4-6 ounce per day, but consider that it's an average. But also consider that the recommendations may be wrong. And that while a person might be able to stay healthy while eating 4-6 ounces of pasture raised meat or wild caught fish every day, factory farmed crap is a totally different story. And even if that were healthy, we're in a situation right now where we've got a few years left to save ourselves from climate change, and if we're gonna do that it means eating less meat than perhaps we could in a healthy diet.

NCBA: And second of all, there's not evidence to support reducing it further for the environment or nutrition.

That's not true.

Host: The other part of their agenda, they're saying that reductions in meat consumption will mitigate climate change, lessen fossil fuel dependence, conserve fresh water, help reduce, you know, greenhouse gasses. Well, they're also blaming livestock production on a number of other issues, and of course, this is the big thing now - go green, protect the environment, reduce greenhouse gasses, they're trying to blame all this on livestock production too.

NCBA: Sure, the activists have seized on all this as another reason to not eat meat and while we can't outspend those activists who have - the top three have three times as much budget as the checkoff [the beef marketing organization] - what we can do is make sure we set the record straight.

Activists are well-funded? Shit, where's my cut of all that cash? I'm not seeing any of it.

NCBA: Take yesterday, for example, we were issuing a radio media tour with funding from the beef checkoff to get our environmental stewardship award winner... out there to set the record straight on what the environmental facts are. I mean the fact is that producers are every day environmentalists.

Some of them. The ones who raise livestock on pasture are. The ones who raise animals in feedlots are not.

NCBA: ...and through work that NCBA is doing with funding from the checkoff, we're making sure that message is getting out. You know, the average beef producer and farmer feeds about 144 people worldwide, so this is important information to get out about the impact the producer's having for not only feeding a hungry world but also protecting the environment as well.

I think this woman got her lessons in grammar from Sarah Palin.

Host: Certainly, whether a person eats meat or doesn't on any given day, that's their personal choice, that's their personal decision. What bothers me is when these groups are trying - and especially if they're trying to do it through the White House - to try to basically scare people off from eating meat and then blaming a lot of problems, putting them at the footstep... of the livestock industry unfairly.

NCBA: That's true. I mean, all food production has an environmental footprint. The question really is is "what do you get out of it?" And for less than 6% of greenhouse gasses for the whole entire U.S. segment of agriculture, you think about it, you get food, fiber, fuel, you get a very high quality, nutrient-dense food that's providing great sources of essential nutrients to the American diet, and that average farmer and rancher is feeding 144 people. So there's a lot of payoff for that small investment.

Except that the 6% figure is bogus. That came from the Bush EPA. I took a look at what they are considering to come up with the number. The answer is not much. They considered animal burps and farts, gasses coming off of fertilizer applied to fields, and burning of rice fields, if I remember right. Now, I'm no farmer, but I've been to farms and I know they drive tractors. And tractors require fossil fuels and release greenhouse gasses. The EPA numbers did not account for any tractor driving whatsoever. Lord knows what else they missed. The FAO estimates just the livestock sector alone contributes 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

CORRECTION: EPA net emissions estimates for ag amount to ~7.9% of national net emissions, factoring in agricultural equipment (under annexes) and fertilizer production (nitric acid and ammonia production, under industrial).  So the 6% figure is too low, but if you do some digging in the inventory report, tractors are included.  7.9% could be a tad high (by EPA numbers, but not necessarily by real-world standards), since nitric acid and ammonia are produced for products other than fertilizer.

Going back to the study "Diet, Energy, and Global Warming," I'd like to share some stats from there. If you put in 100 calories of fossil fuel, you can produce:
18.1 calories of chicken
20.6 calories of milk
11.2 calories of egg
6.4 calories of grain-fed beef
3.7 calories of pork
1.2 calories of lamb
110 calories of herring
5.8 calories of tuna
5.7 calories of farmed salmon
0.9 calories of shrimp
250 calories of corn
415 calories of soy
110 calories of apples
123 calories of potatoes

In other words, if you are looking for bang for your buck in terms of environmental impact, plants are the way to go and meat is not.

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Potatoes, Apples and Herring? (4.00 / 3)
The basic Scandinavian diet is GOOD for the planet?

Uff da, indeed!


3 oz (4.00 / 2)
You ask if you know anyone who actually eats beef in 3 oz servings. Yes, you do now. Me. In fact, our whole family. Generally less than 3 oz in fact. Eat meat, along with veggie, fruit and grains in balance. Don't gorge on anything. Everything in moderation.

The studies you site and the fossil fuel table at the end of your article are seriously flawed. That's for factory farm, feedlot style production. We raise pigs out on pasture. We don't buy commercial feeds or grains for them. They eat pasture/hay and whey from a local cheese maker. Extremely little petroleum is used to produce a pound of pork done this way and we feed thousands of people, fresh pork almost every week of the year. Careful not to lump everything into one square peg hole or over generalize.

Cheers

-Walter
Sugar Mountain Farm
in the mountains of Vermont
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/blog/
http://NoNAIS.org


A couple quotes... (4.00 / 2)
You might have missed these -

Jill writes:

Some of them [are environmentalists]. The ones who raise livestock on pasture are. The ones who raise animals in feedlots are not.

and:

Sure, it can be (but doesn't have to be) but only if you buy it from a farmer you know who raises their animals on pasture and you eat it in moderation - much less than the average American. The kind of meat you're [NCBA] advocating for isn't good for anybody.

And the 3 oz. question was taken out of context.  Here's the next line -

I mean, really, have you been to a steakhouse lately?

Nobody here is making an argument against the way that you do things.  We're very supportive of those who raise meat the right way...


[ Parent ]
I did specify in many cases (4.00 / 2)
that my "beef" is with factory farmed meat, and NOT pasture raised meat like the pork you produce. Kudos to you for responsible meat production.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
Thank you (4.00 / 1)
As long as we don't lose sight of the fact that there is a tremendous difference between the bad, subsidized, oil sucking factory farms and Big Ag production of grain, fruit and veggies versus the good, low impact, non-subsidized, sustainable small farm production of pastured livestock, veggies, fruits and even grains. Yes, good food costs more up front, something some people complain about, but the Big Ag food is paid for out our back pockets with subsidies, health costs, societal costs and environmental costs.

My big problem is with these studies getting cited and used against all livestock farming. So often I do see these numbers trotted out without context.

As to the 3oz steak question, yes, actually I have. We go to one once in a great while and did so two months ago. It is a family treat. My wife and I split one meal. 6oz steak split between two adults = 3oz steak each. Restaurants serve such large portions. Not that I'm asking them to stop doing that, if they served small portions then we would have to buy two and my wife and I are very happy split one. We just leave a larger tip.

Keep up the good writing, and reading.

Cheers,

-Walter


[ Parent ]
Great piece, Jill! (4.00 / 2)
I have to start listening to that show.

:)

Yeah, and I think if you really look back to previous references in history

Is he arguing we should base policy on nutritional science of the 1930's and 40's?  Lol...


I love beef as much as the next guy... (4.00 / 1)
But even I fail to see how Big Beef could be threatened by one day a week without beef.

What I'd really love to ask him is 'So, you're against Lent and Catholicism then?'


Cornless Tuesdays... Watermelonless Wednesdays... (0.00 / 0)
Well, we could just take every meal of the week and have a special diet for that day or that meal. On Thursdays we have no bananas. Friday Free of Fat.

This will make for some very creative cooking. Delightful dogma.


The Beef Industry's View of Meatless Mondays (0.00 / 0)
Amazing how difficult the beef industry makes it to get out such a simple, public health message that can't be ignored. I worked for the MM Campaign for two years and getting any decent publicity was a challenge. But with Michael Pollan's recent message to Oprah and all the interest in green living, I think people might become more receptive. The new video on their website sure is catchy.

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