If there was anything the media debacle over “pink slime” taught the industry  it was that we have to take a hard look at issue management and be more proactive in our response to such issues. It also raises the philosophical debate about whether or not good science  or public perception is more important.
Realizing that consumer perception is in the end the final arbitrator, regardless of what good science may say, the tough thing is that it becomes a slippery slope if we give up profitable technologies to reduce risk. In the end, we’ll just eventually find ourselves in a position of being uncompetitive.
There’s also a realization that modern agriculture is under attack and it’s important to defend our ability to feed a growing world as efficiently as possible. Currently, the major issues are around feed additives, hormones and antibiotics. However, the real issue is whether we can create a new issue management model that allows the industry to proactively deal with such issues in order to prevent another debacle like the pink slime issue which we are dealing with today.
Of course, it doesn’t help when USDA appears to work against such an effort . This week the existence of an internal USDA newsletter, dated July 23 and extolling the benefit of Meatless Monday, was revealed. Called the “Greening Headquarters Update,” the newsletter was an update on green efforts within the agency.
The item that caught the industry’s attention was one calling on employees to get involved in Meatless Mondays in the USDA cafeteria. Here’s the item:
“The USDA Headquarters Food Operations are a high-profile opportunity to demonstrate USDA’s commitment to USDA mission and initiatives. In addition to the many USDA employees who come to our cafeterias, thousands of tourists and visitors also come to our cafeterias each month. Currently, a Selection Panel is reviewing food service contractor submissions. Once the review is completed, the panel will make a recommendation to the Source Selection Authority that will make the final decision.
“The new contract, which should be awarded later this year, calls for our cafeterias to become models for healthy eating and ‘sustainable’ operations. The new Food Service Contract encouraged the use of food and beverage items that are fresh and locally grown or otherwise made or procured in the closest possible proximity to Washington, D.C., and the preparation of meals that contribute to a balanced diet and contain the fewest possible additives.
By sourcing locally and sustainably grown food, our program will help support sustainable food systems as a way of contributing to the vitality, environmental sustainability, and quality of life in the region. In addition to the food and beverages, the “back of the house” operations will also support USDA missions, including waste reduction programs (conservation of natural resources) and the use of environmentally preferable products including products that are certified BioPreferred (http://www.biopreferred.gov ). So soon, you should be seeing some interesting changes in our cafeterias!
“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. Meatless Monday is an initiative of The Monday Campaign Inc. in association with the John Hopkins School of Public Health.
“How will going meatless one day of the week help the environment? 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.
“While a vegetarian diet could have a beneficial impact on a person’s health and the environment, many people are not ready to make that commitment. Because Meatless Monday involves only one day a week, it is a small change that could produce big results.
“Did you notice that our cafeterias have tasty meatless options? So you can really help yourself and the environment while having a good vegetarian meal!
“Did you know that the cafeterias use local honey? It is wild- flower honey from Shipman, VA. Some people believe that local honey can help reduce your allergies. Because honey contains a variety of the same pollen spores that give allergy sufferers so much trouble when flowers and grasses are in bloom, people speculate that, eaten regularly, the honey gradually vaccinates the body against allergens.”
Upon learning of USDA’s support for Meatless Monday on Wednesday afternoon, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association dashed off a release condemning the position, which spurred frantic social media activity. Within a few hours, USDA countered, claiming the comments in the newsletter hadn’t receive proper clearance and stating that the agency does not endorse the Meatless Monday initiative.
Of course, USDA’s retraction doesn’t say anything about the other points raised in the newsletter item, which also work against a positive perception about what is sustainable cattle production.