July 30—For a short time last week, depending on one's point of view, the U.S. Department of Agriculture had either taken anunprecedented step toward embracing sustainability or taken leave of its senses. When an internal memo got posted to the USDA's website, it seemed as though the federal agency had thrown its support behind the Meatless Mondays campaign.
Within two hours of its posting, however, the memo was gone and the USDA was making apologies. USDA Press Secretary Courtney Rowe, quoting an unidentified USDA spokesperson, said, "USDA does not endorse Meatless Monday. The statement found on the USDA website was posted without proper clearance and it has been removed."
The "statement" was part of the USDA Greening Headquarters Update, an internal e-newsletter. It began, "One simple way to reduce your environmental impact while dining at our cafeterias is to participate in the 'Meatless Monday' initiative. This international effort, as the name implies, encourages people not to eat meat on Mondays." The newletter went on to list the reasons behind the initiative, closing with a note about the meatless options available at the USDA's dining room.
By mid-afternoon, the National Cattleman's Beef Association had issued a statement to news agencies excoriating the USDA, saying the recommendation calls into question USDA's commitment to U.S. farmers and ranchers. "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," said NCBA President J. D. Alexander.
USDA's Rowe responded via email to the NCBA, and later reached out to news agencies with the retraction.