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Letter to Tom Vilsack, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture - Efforts to Discourage Employees From Eating Meat

Idaho Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch have joined their Western Senate colleagues in sending a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack regarding the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) efforts to discourage employees from eating meat.

The USDA recently distributed a "Greening Headquarters Update" newsletter to employees in which their Office of Operations encourages employees to participate in "Meatless Mondays" while dining in USDA cafeterias. The newsletter criticized meat consumption by citing the United Nations and claiming that the "production of meat, especially beef (and dairy) has a large environmental impact" and also "wastes resources."

In response, the Senators sent a letter to Secretary Vilsack noting that such a newsletter raises serious concerns about USDA priorities. The USDA has since removed the newsletter from its website, but the issue remains as to whether the USDA believes the discouragement of meat consumption in their facilities reflects the values of the Department and if those values support America's farmers and ranchers.

"The underlying issue is that there is a culture at the Department that would allow this to happen," Crapo said. "That a newsletter was released promoting a radical environmental agenda--with no insight that USDA works with animal agriculture as well--is truly disturbing. American farmers and ranchers deserve a USDA that supports all forms of agriculture and promotes policies that will help those in the industry, rather than a government that caters to extremism."

"As a senator and part of a family cattle operation, I am appalled by the employee newsletter at the U.S. Department of Agriculture that promoted "Meatless Mondays' and used United Nations material to discourage the consumption of beef," said Risch. "Here is a federal agency that was specifically created to promote nutritious American farm products, yet during a time when beef producers are facing severe drought and high feed costs, they advocate for an action that causes further harm."

In addition to Crapo and Risch, the letter is signed by Senators John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Dean Heller (R-NV), Mike Johanns (R-NE), Mike Lee (R-UT), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Jim Risch (R-ID), Pat Roberts (R-KS), and John Thune (R-SD).

Full Text of the letter to Secretary Vilsack:

July 26, 2012

The Honorable Thomas J. Vilsack
Secretary of Agriculture
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave. S.W.
Washington D.C. 20250

Dear Secretary Vilsack:

As members of the Senate Western Caucus, we are writing to seek clarification on the initiatives promoted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. On July 23rd, the USDA's Headquarters Sustainable Operations office released a newsletter titled Greening Headquarters Update, in which USDA employees were discouraged from eating meat in USDA cafeterias as a part of the larger "Meatless Mondays" movement. The newsletter encourages employees to "help yourself and the environment while having a good vegetarian meal." This newsletter raises serious concerns about USDA priorities. This type of thinking by the Department would be cause for concern under any circumstance, but undermining U.S. livestock producers during a period of extreme drought in much of the U.S. is particularly troubling.

While we appreciate the action taken to remove the newsletter from the Department website, our concern is not merely based on the USDA's discouragement of meat consumption, but also in the manner in which this practice was encouraged. Rather than cite the USDA's own research on the contributions made by livestock producers, or cite the known health benefits of beef as part of a healthy diet, the USDA newsletter in question cites the United Nations as an authority on U.S. agriculture among other claims. On page three, the newsletter states, "According to the U.N., animal agriculture is a major source of greenhouse gases and climate change. It also wastes resources." The newsletter then questions beef production and consumption by stating "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." This hardly sounds like a USDA that supports U.S. farmers and ranchers, but rather an anti-agriculture environmental group pushing their ideological agenda.

With half the continental United States experiencing severe drought conditions, here we see the USDA making claims that are damaging to the very industry hit hardest by the lack of rain. Therefore, we respectfully request that you clarify whether the USDA believes the discouragement of meat consumption in your facilities reflects the values of the Department and if those values display the proper support for farmers and ranchers during this difficult time.

On behalf of livestock and agricultural producers in our states, we look forward to your response.

Sincerely,


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