Meat industry starting to feel the heat

Via Mark Bittman, an article on the effect that efforts like the “Meatless Monday” campaign are having on beef and pork producers:

Efforts like Meatless Mondays are yet another headache for the beef and pork industries. They have been struggling to cope with the soaring cost of corn for feed and to hold on to consumers because of rising retail meat prices.

[Food service giant] Sodexo’s alliance with the Meatless Mondays campaign coincided with an endorsement by Oprah Winfrey, who devoted a week of programs this month to promoting meat-free dieting. Another blow to the meat industry came from the release of the government’s new dietary guidelines Jan. 31.

Those recommendations, which guide health care professionals’ advice to consumers and dictate menu choices for government nutrition programs, called for Americans to cut back on the artery-clogging type of fats found in meat and replace some meat with fish or other seafood.

When a reporter demanded to know why the government didn’t just say, “Eat less meat,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack responded that the seafood recommendation was “a way of saying what you’re saying.”

Those guidelines, coupled with rising prices for beef, pork and poultry because of soaring feed prices, are likely to combine to reduce meat consumption per capita, said Helen Jensen, an Iowa State University economist.

“Dietary guidelines are making suggestions and recommendations about meals that go along with substituting toward a lower-cost meal,” she said.

Here’s a response from the meat industry:

The meat industry says the efforts to reduce consumption are misguided and driven in part by animal rights activists. Consumers need the protein and nutrients that beef and pork provide, industry officials say.

There’s a bit of logical smoke-and-mirrors there, of course. While it’s true that people need protein and nutrients that are found in meat, it’s obviously not true that you can only get them by eating meat. And I certainly don’t think that any reputable nutritionist would say that it’s healthy to eat meat in the quantities that Americans tend to. And, even if you totally discount the concerns of those nefarious “animal rights activists,” American-style meat consumption on a global scale would in all likelihood be an environmental disaster, as well as driving up food prices for very poorest people in the world. There’s just no question that reducing our consumption of meat makes sense for health, environmental, global justice, and animal rights/welfare reasons.

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