Troy Marshall

February 19, 2015

5 Min Read
It’s time to burn our boats and signal no retreat to anti-meat activists
Beef Checkoff

I don’t think I’ve ever before seen such a level of concern as that plaguing folks in the beef industry who have been dealing with the looming release of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. For those of you not familiar with the issue, the guidelines are updated every five years by a government-appointed committee called the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), which develops its recommendations and delivers them to USDA.

The DGAC is expected to release its report in the next few weeks, after which USDA will draw up its recommendations. The scuttlebutt is that DGAC is expected to recommend dropping red meat from the 2015 update for reasons of saturated fat and meat’s environmental impact. As you might expect, meat groups are outraged at the possibility, as sustainability is way outside the expertise of these academics.

The bottom line is that beef is definitely in the crosshairs. If the update does remove red meat from its healthy diet recommendations, it will be quite a coup for anti-meat activists in their drive to end meat production. It’s a political game and the cards our industry is holding aren’t very good, despite the fact that the science continues to come in on our side.

There is hope, however. Remember when eggs and cholesterol were the first enemies of health. Egg consumption fell by 30% as a result. Now the scientific community is finally admitting that it was wrong. So, while previous dietary guidelines warned of the dangers of too much cholesterol, the latest recommendations reportedly don’t consider cholesterol worth the worry. So eat up those omelets, folks.

To tell you the truth, I think we are seeing the same scenario develop with beef. Research follows the funding, and the funding follows the political activism and political will. As more and more people parse the data, they’ve come to understand that in order to have their research funded, researchers needed to make a case that meat was bad. Yet, all the millions of dollars spent on the effort are beginning to collapse around the weight of the real science.  

Our industry still struggles at times with being content to fight these scientific battles on the basis of good science, but the issue has never been about science. The environmental activist community, animal rightists, the anti-large farming/ranching crowd are committed to our destruction. The nutritional front is just that another front in that war.

I don’t understand why these people hate our way of life so much. I think we all consider ourselves good people, trying to live good lives, working to take care of God’s creatures and the environment while providing nutritious food for our fellow humans. I find it hard to understand how and why people get up each morning committed to destroying my way of life.

The tricky part is that until we all embrace the fact that these people are committed to doing just that, and that they won’t waver in that conviction to accomplish it, we won’t be able to effectively combat them. I’m reminded of the resolution of a long-running case in which Feld Entertainment, which owns Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, was sued by a handful of activist groups claiming abuse of elephants. After having spent millions of dollars to fight the bogus claims, the case was dismissed.

Owner and CEO Kenneth Feld could have walked away to lick his wounds but he continued the fight to win back the legal costs incurred from the frivolous lawsuit. In the end, these activists, which included the Humane Society of the United States, ended up paying nearly $16 million to reimburse Feld’s legal costs.

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Stephen Payne, vice president of corporate communications for Feld Entertainment, offered this viewpoint: “I don’t believe in turning the other cheek in a debate like this. You just get slapped twice.”

It is rational and perhaps noble to want to avoid conflict, but when it is forced upon you, the only choice is to respond, and decide what you are willing to sacrifice, accept or defend. Feld said his back was against the wall; without his beloved elephants, he didn’t have a circus, and he was willing to fight to the bloody end.

It’s time to burn our boats, letting everyone know that retreat from those who want to destroy us is not an option. Our enemies are all in, and, sooner or later, we will have to join them in that perspective. I believe that our enemies know they can’t beat us in a heads-up battle, but they believe that, over time, we will eventually just cede the battlefield to them.

The opinions of Troy Marshall are not necessarily those of and the Penton Agriculture Group.

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