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July 30, 2012

Public Health Dean Expresses Disappointment with USDA’s Step Back from Meatless Monday

On Friday, July 27, 2012, Michael J. Klag, MD, MPH, dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, wrote to Secretary Vilsack of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to express his disappointment with his agency’s recent retraction of its Meatless Monday endorsement.

In the letter, Dean Klag offered reasons why an endorsement of Meatless Monday would be pro-agriculture and would benefit the health of Americans. He also offered to provide the agency with data about the goals of the Meatless Monday campaign.

The letter penned by the dean provided a public health perspective on a controversy that took shape last week after the USDA recommended Meatless Monday in an online newsletter for employees, and then deleted the newsletter two days later. The deletion of the newsletter—and the endorsement—came immediately after public complaints by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and simultaneous negative commentary by GOP officials such as senators Jerry Moran (R–Kansas), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and John Thune (R-S.D.).

The endorsement had been part of the agency’s “greening” effort and suggested to its employees that one way to “reduce [their] environmental impact while dining at our cafeterias is to participate in the ‘Meatless Monday’ initiative.”

In his letter to Secretary Vilsack, Dean Klag urged him to consider three important points. His point about public health was as follows:

“… Increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables in a weekly diet, as suggested by Meatless Monday, conforms to the Dietary Guidelines recently issued by USDA, which are designed to improve public health and reduce the risk of chronic disease. As USDA recommends, people should reduce saturated fat in their diet, eat more lean protein in the form of fish and seafood, and increase their intake of fruits and vegetables.”

Another point made was that the Meatless Monday campaign is pro-agriculture because it is more inclusive of all agricultural producers. A third point was that with meat and dairy price hikes resulting from the recent drought, a reduction in these foods will help the bottom lines of Americans’ household budgets.

The full text of the letter to Secretary Vilsack is available here.