Education

Meat producers cry foul on University of Iowa Student Government 'Meatless Monday' initiative

Meat still available in dining halls every day - but student group promoting meat-free options

(File photo) Pigs find a ray of late morning light in a hog barn in Winthrop on Wednesday, March 8, 2017.(Liz Martin/The Gazette)
(File photo) Pigs find a ray of late morning light in a hog barn in Winthrop on Wednesday, March 8, 2017.(Liz Martin/The Gazette)

AMES — Several representatives from Iowa’s meat and livestock industry on Thursday lined up with complaints for Iowa’s Board of Regents over a University of Iowa Student Government-led “Meatless Monday” initiative.

The initiative — led by students and promoted through the university’s “Climate for Change” theme semester — began earlier this month with student government representatives handing out fliers highlighting meatless options available in the dining halls, according to UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck.

“Meat continues to be served on Monday and every day at the university,” Beck said in an email to Darcy Maulsby, a farmer, marketer, entrepreneur, and self-proclaimed “foodie,” and one of the women who spoke in opposition to the initiative Thursday during the regents meeting.


“This student-led initiative did not alter the menu items available through UI Housing & Dining,” Beck said in the email. “The menu items highlighted were simply part of the standard rotation available to students.”

Concerns emerged and complaints were lodged following a report in The Daily Iowan, the UI-student newspaper, about the initiative — including that students might notice “something different at the dining halls.” The paper reported UISG partnered with the UI Office of Sustainability to create Meatless Monday — in an effort to try to “provide meat-free options for students every first Monday of the month.”

Complaints first emerged on social media, with one person on Twitter on Feb. 8 reporting being embarrassed to be an Iowan “for the first time that I can ever remember.”

“The decision by the University of Iowa to participate in the Meatless Monday movement seems as tasteless as the kale sandwich they will be eating in the mess hall,” he wrote.

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The UI College Republicans on Twitter wrote the university and UISG “are disrespecting ever farmer who works tirelessly to provide sustainable agricultural food production for the entire world, all while citing imaginary statistics. This worthless ‘initiative’ needs to be put to an end. #AmericaNeedsFarmers.”

The university’s verified Twitter account responded to those concerns by thanking them and clarifying the campaign was sponsored by UISG and “simply provides students with information about the existing meatless dishes available at the dining halls.”

A UISG spokesman did not respond to a request for comment Thursday, but in a letter to the editor in The Daily Iowan on Feb. 9, UISG defended the campaign as suggesting “moderate” steps to decrease meat consumption. In an effort to correct misinformation, the letter reported UISG did not coordinate with a larger Meatless Monday initiative and has not endorsed it.

“The campaign did not encourage or pressure individuals to be vegetarian or vegan,” according to the letter. “Members of UISG shared information that is readily available online to raise awareness of particular statistics about meat production and consumption. The campaign did not criticize sustainable meat production. UISG does recognize that there are sustainable methods of producing meat.”

The larger Meatless Monday initiative has been gaining traction for years, reporting eating less meat is good for individual health, the environment, and family budgets. But Maulsby and two other opponents on Thursday countered that perception.

“The campaign did not encourage or pressure individuals to be vegetarian or vegan...Members of UISG shared information that is readily available online to raise awareness of particular statistics about meat production and consumption."

- UI Student Government, in a letter to the Daily Iowan

[The University of Iowa and UISG] are disrespecting every farmer who works tirelessly to provide sustainable agricultural food production for the entire world, all while citing imaginary statistics. This worthless “initiative” needs to be put to an end. #AmericaNeedsFarmers"

- UI College Republicans, on Twitter

“I’m all for choice — if you want to do Meatless Monday, that’s cool with me,” Maulsby told the regents. “What I am not OK with is misinformation.”

She reported Iowa’s massive meat production comes at a minor economic impact and that greenhouse gas emissions credited to livestock have been overstated. She also noted the importance in a healthy diet of protein, a mainstay in meat.

“All I’m asking is that we share both sides of the story,” she said.

Julianne Johnston — who works for Pro Farmer, a marketing organization for farmers — asked for more during her few minutes with the Board of Regents on Thursday.

“(The University of Iowa) needs to end its Meatless Monday initiative,” she said.

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Johnston too criticized the larger Meatless Monday campaign as “based on dated science.”

“I too strongly support a student’s decision to choose how they decide to fuel their bodies,” Johnston said. “But what I take issue with is when one of our tax-supported institutions is perceived as supporting a campaign that is full of misinformation and is harmful to Iowa’s economy.”

Lauren Mosher, who called herself a fifth-generation beef producer in central Iowa, went into detail about the nutritional value of beef and environmental benefits of livestock production.

“Cow are the most efficient way to turn grass and other greens into human digestive protein,” she said.

Iowa’s cattle industry contributed $6.8 billion to Iowa’s economy in 2015, Mosher reported, and 20,750 jobs in this state are tied to the beef industry.

“Not only are we feeding people, taking care of the environment, but we are providing Iowans with jobs,” she said.

In Beck’s response to Maulsby, she promoted the university’s “long tradition of supporting agriculture,” citing its College of Public Health graduate certificate in agricultural safety and health; the UI-based Iowa Center for Agricultural Safety and Health; and the university’s spinout company SwineTech, which works to prevent sows from crushing piglets.

A UI Department of Chemistry professor also is studying methods for purifying agricultural oils for use in soaps and cosmetics, according to Beck, and the UI-based Iowa Flood Center is working with farmers to improve agricultural productivity and water management.

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The university has not said whether it will take any action to alter the UISG-led Meatless Monday initiative or how it’s being promoted.

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