GOP senators backed by meat industry declare war on vegetarian meals

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Sens. Joni Ernst and Roger Marshall want to ban nonexistent 'meatless Mondays' at federal agency cafeterias.

Two Republican senators are pushing to ban federal agencies from forcing their cafeterias to observe "meatless Mondays" and serve only vegetarian food one day a week — something that has never actually happened.

Both Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, who introduced the bill, and the bill's sole co-sponsor so far, Kansas Sen. Roger Marshall, have received significant campaign contributions from the meat industry.

Ernst introduced a bill she called the TASTEE Act — an acronym for the Telling Agencies to Stop Tweaking What Employees Eat Act of 2021 — on April 13, in what a news release issued by her office said was pushback "against the Left's 'War on Meat' and 'Meatless Mondays.'" Noting that nine years ago the Obama administration's Department of Agriculture "infamously sent out an agency newsletter" that encouraged staffers to consider avoiding meat one day a week, she said her proposal would "prohibit federal agencies from establishing policies that ban serving meat to employees."

Ernst said, "When I hear calls from the liberal Left—everyone from out-of-touch politicians to Hollywood elites—encouraging people to ban meat and the quality agriculture products we produce here in Iowa, it makes me sizzle. Our federal agencies shouldn’t be encouraging people to ban agricultural products at the expense of America’s hardworking farmers and producers."

Marshall, as of Monday Ernst's only co-sponsor, said:

The last thing Americans need is big government stepping in and telling them what they are allowed to eat. The Biden Administration should not have the right to make radical political statements at the expense of federal employees' dietary options and America's hardworking farmers and producers. I'm proud to join my colleagues [sic] in introducing this important legislation that prevents Meatless Mondays and other types of discrimination against agricultural products from taking place in government dining halls.

A report published on April 16 by the website Government Executive noted that there is not — and never has been — any measure preventing cafeterias at federal agencies from serving meat and that the Department of Agriculture even rescinded its 2012 suggestion of voluntary meatless Mondays. A spokesperson for the Agriculture Department told the outlet that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most of its cafeterias are currently closed anyway — but that "meat would be available throughout the week in cafeterias" during normal operations.

Neither Ernst nor Marshall immediately responded to inquiries for this story.

But according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, both have received significant funding from the meat industry.

The political action committee of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the trade association for beef producers, gave each senator $10,000 in contributions — the legal maximum — for their 2020 Senate campaigns. Marshall also received similar donations during his tenure in the House of Representatives from the PAC in 2018 and 2016, while Ernst received $5,000 for her 2014 Senate race.

Both also received thousands of donations from livestock, poultry, and processing interests. In total, Marshall collected more than $338,000 in agribusiness PAC donations during the 2019-2020 cycle; Ernst received more than $327,000.

Both Ernst and Marshall represent states that are among the nation's largest producers of soybeans, which are often used in producing nonmeat protein. According to Federal Election Commission data, both also received thousands of dollars last cycle from the American Soybean Association's SOYPAC.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.