Masters of Beef Advocacy Grads Take On Sustainable Food Supporters, Attacking The Wrong Target

beef cattle photo

photo: Alex Proimos/Creative Commons

If you don't subscribe to the print version of Mother Jones you may have missed what seems to be a really sort of creepy story about how the US beef industry is not so subtly waging war against sustainable and slow food advocates, who are inspired in part by Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, on college campuses. At the heart of it is an MBA program, a Masters of Beef Advocacy.The MBA website, run by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, explains:

We face a difficult challenge in the beef industry. The anti-animal agriculture community is hard at work raising concerns about the impact of beef production on the environment, the treatment of animals in food production, the role of beef in a healthy diet and the safety of the products we produce. They are passionate and vocal and well-funded.

But we have a great story to tell. Beef producers work hard every day to be good stewards of the land and their animals in providing safe and nutritious beef for America's dinner tables. We need to be equally passionate and vocal in telling our story.

They go on to say that the program is designed to help "beef producers across the country to tell their story in presentations to school and church/civic groups, through local media and the 'virtual' world of the Internet."

Mother Jones explains that since the program was launched in March of 2009 it has trained nearly 3000 students and farmers to combat the Pollanization of campuses. Pollan, one graduate of the program says, "is really our enemy right now."

As the original article points out, both the MBA grads and Pollan and his supporters (which include the TreeHugger staff, if I can be so bold as to speak for everyone on this one occasion, as well as I suspect many of our readers), are reading the same writing on the environmental wall. Both realize "the days of oil-fueled, corn-fed, resource-intensive agriculture are numbered"--and for many reasons, the least of which, I'm sad to say personally being outspokenly vegetarian, is the supposedly well-funded "anti-animal agriculture community." And, I have to wonder, well-funded compared to whom? Certainly not the big agri-business companies of the world.

I won't take the time here to detail why I think the pro-beef arguments fall well short of what I argue is a more-sustainable, more-ethical, and more-practical way to feed the world. My personal position is well known on the issue, as a search of the TreeHugger or Planet Green archives reveals. Plus, TreeHugger has covered time and time again the high water and carbon footprint of beef, the pollution and inherent cruelty of factory farming, the comparative amount of land needed to grow feed or grass for cattle versus growing vegetable crops on that land, etc etc etc--and that's largely by people here who aren't vegetarian.

What is most interesting to me here, beyond the initial creepy feeling I get when I see lobbying for any particular food stuff over another (the Pistachio ads make me want to eat walnuts and marketing pork as 'the other white meat' was revolting even when I ate meat growing up), is the adversarial position the MBA program takes.

If it's true that they do see a bleak future for themselves without change, what is so threatening about a more diversified and less tech-intensive one, presumably putting more people to work than are today for the same amount of output? Both sides are arguing for a future where agricultural work is more respected and supported than it is today, and more people are involved in it--even if beef consumption is reduced.

As Sami wrote this morning, specifically in reference to internal differences within the environmental community but it seems apt in this particular context as well:

What matters is not whether we debate our differences, but how we do it. And as with most things in life, the first thing we need to recognize is that none of us knows for certain what is coming, and we are all trying our best to find answers to the unprecedented challenges ahead of us.

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More on Beef:
From Lettuce to Beef, What's the Water Footprint of Your Food?
Poultry, Beef More Likely to Make You Sick, CDC Says
Study Finds Meat and Dairy Create More Emissions Than Miles
UN Expert Says Eat Less Red Meat to Reduce CO2 Emissions

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