Unanswered Questions for the U.S.D.A.

My column this week is about a “lovers’ quarrel” between the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (N.C.B.A.) and the Department of Agriculture (U.S.D.A.). Following the withdrawal of an article in an internal U.S.D.A. newsletter supportive of Meatless Mondays – an occurrence that appears to have been directly triggered by an angry rant by the N.C.B.A.’s president – I asked both organizations for interviews; both declined. Here are the questions I had for the U.S.D.A.:

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Posted in Food Politics

No Meatless Mondays at the U.S.D.A.

A trade organization exists to promote the interest of its members; at least some of its work involves lobbying the government for preferential treatment, though most trade organizations would label this “fair.” It’s a clear mission and an unconflicted one; whether the interests of the trade organization coincide with those of the public at large is a matter of chance and not a governing concern. Thus in the course of the events of last week — events that will go down as an amusing footnote in the annals of food progress, and further evidence of government cowardice — the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association acted appropriately: it defended the interests of its members without worrying about the interests of the rest of us.

The Department of Agriculture, however, has multiple missions. One is “to keep America’s farmers and ranchers in business.” Sadly, although the statement doesn’t say which farmers and ranchers, in practice this has meant those who produce commodity crops: wheat, rice, cotton, corn and soybeans, and the animals and junk food whose production relies on the last two. The second is “to end hunger and improve health in the United States.” Last week, the U.S.D.A. betrayed its mission to improve health, acting in a cowardly fashion. For that it should be taken to task.

The events, which unfolded last Wednesday afternoon, could be seen as funny.

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Posted in Food Politics