AGRICULTURE:

'Meatless Mondays' language to be dropped from House cafeterias under pressure from livestock industry

Mondays won't be "meatless" anymore in House cafeterias.

The company that runs the various cafeterias in House office buildings is halting a campaign to promote "Meatless Mondays" after running into opposition from trade groups representing livestock producers. While there will still be vegetarian options available, any signage promoting the tradition will be removed from House dining areas, according to the coalition of livestock groups.

"'Meatless Mondays' is an acknowledged tool of animal rights and environmental organizations who seek to publicly denigrate U.S. livestock and poultry production, alleging we provide unhealthy foods, while contributing disproportionately to climate change and environmental damage," the groups wrote in opposition to the promotions. "Both claims are offensive to us and wrong."

This is the second time in two years that "Meatless Mondays" has caused a kerfuffle on Capitol Hill. Last year, the Agriculture Department was forced to remove language promoting the tradition from a sustainability newsletter to employees after facing similar pressure (Greenwire, July 26, 2012).

According to a letter to the House Administration Committee obtained by E&E Daily, the livestock and farm organizations first broached the issue in House cafeterias on June 7. In it, they told committee Chairwoman Candice Miller (R-Mich.) and ranking member Robert Brady (D-Pa.) that Restaurant Associates, which serves the cafeterias in House office buildings, had posted language within eateries and on its website promoting going meatless on Mondays.

Meatless Mondays is an idea that has gained traction in many institutions around the country. It is backed by the Monday Campaigns Inc., which runs a website on the issue and promotes it in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

According to the campaign, refraining from eating meat one day a week can help improve health and reduce the environmental impacts of livestock production.

"The campaign simply states that, just one day a week, consumers should replace one agricultural product with another to improve their health," wrote Michael Klag, dean of the Bloomberg School, in a letter last year to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The Farm Animal Welfare Coalition -- the formal name for the ad hoc coalition of livestock groups -- said it understood that Restaurant Associates "is likely seeking to simply meet the demands of vegetarian and vegan customers." But it slammed the promotion of the idea as "unfortunate and political."

The groups asked the committee to inform the company that "it must cease immediately" any political activity promoting Meatless Mondays. Steve Kopperud, coordinator of the campaign, wrote in an online policy newsletter that the committee informed the coalition last Thursday that the promotion "will not reappear."

Restaurant Associates did not respond to requests for comment; neither did the House's Chief Administrative Office, which handles food service contracts.

In 2009, Restaurant Associates announced with the Environmental Defense Fund that it was launching a broad "green dining" campaign to cut carbon emissions and landfill waste from its operations. In it, the company said it planned to put in place a program to reduce the carbon footprint of the proteins served in its facilities by 20 percent.

The campaign spanned several other activities, including offered "bottleless" water dispensers at its locations, prohibiting the purchase of pork and chicken that have been fed human antibiotics and promoting sustainable seafood.

"Consumers today know what they want: delicious food at affordable prices that's good for them and for the planet. This is a tall order, but it's one we can meet," Restaurant Associates President Ed Sirhal said at the time. "Using these best practices as a guide, we unearthed opportunities for cost and environmental savings that were right there for the taking."

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