Beef Bites Back: College Students Spread the Gospel of Big Meat

>Where's the beef? These days, Mother Jones reports, it's in public relations as well as on our plates, with college students and others being encouraged to praise the virtues of conventionally raised cattle thanks to an industry-funded initiative called the Masters of Beef Advocacy program (MBA). MBA candidates complete courses online such as "Beef Safety," "Environmental Safety," and the "Beef Checkoff," all part of what the MBA site calls "equipping beef producers across the country to tell their story." Cattle farmers may be especially eager to fire up passion given that beef consumption is the lowest it's been since 1961:

Since its launch in March 2009, the MBA has trained nearly 3,000 students and farmers to spread the "positive beef message," offering online lessons on how to combat PETA and organizing a Twitter and Facebook "Food Fight" against its "campus critics." Daren Williams, the communications director for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, helped start the MBA with $240,000 from the Beef Checkoff program, the beef industry's PR wing. He says the MBA's "focus has really become young people on the big land-grant campuses," from which more than one-fifth of future farmers and industry leaders will emerge.

The MBA is just one part of a pro-beef backlash on campus. In May 2009, Washington State's president canceled a lecture by [Michael] Pollan, citing budget cuts, and pulled The Omnivore's Dilemma from the freshman reading list. (The talk was rescheduled when a wealthy supporter stepped in to pay Pollan's way.) That September, when Pollan was asked to speak at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, the owner of Harris Ranch—a stockyard critics have dubbed "Cowschwitz"—threatened to withhold (PDF) a $500,000 donation to the school. Campus officials turned the speech into a panel featuring a proponent of conventional beef.

Read the full story at Mother Jones.

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John Hendel is a writer based in Washington, DC, and a former producer at The Atlantic.

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