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Iowa senator wants military to retreat on 'Meatless Mondays'

Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa is proposing to ban “Meatless Mondays” at military dining halls.

Ernst, whose home state is the nation's seventh-largest beef producer, plans to attach a rider prohibiting meatless meal mandates to the National Defense Authorization Act, which the Senate will take up this week. 

“None of the funds authorized to be appropriated by this act may be obligated or expended to establish or enforce ‘Meatless Monday’ or any other program explicitly designed to reduce the amount of animal protein that members of the Armed Forces voluntarily consume,” the text of the amendment states. 

The proposal would direct the secretary of defense to ensure that members of the military have daily meat options equal to or in excess of standards established by the latest edition of the publication “Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”

Ernst’s proposal comes a year after the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, working with the Humane Society of the United States, launched a program that it claims will reduce meat consumption at the academy by 10 percent by 2017.

Ernst’s Senate office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“The push for ‘Meatless Mondays’ in our military is misguided at best, and goes against dietary guidelines,” Ernst, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard, said Monday in an interview with the publication Pro Ag. “Our men and women in uniform should have to option to consume the protein they need, including meat, on a daily basis.”

The bill would interfere with efforts to combat obesity in the armed services, Paul Shapiro, vice-president for farm animal protection at the humane society, told AMI Newswire.  “It’s a wacky proposal. The senator has received nearly $200,000 in campaign contributions from agribusiness interests. You have to ask whether it is really in the interests of the military or the agribusiness interests in her state.”

According to the website VoteSmart.org, Ernst received $187,510 in contributions from agribusiness in 2014.

Obesity is a leading cause of military ineligibility among those between the ages of 17 and 24, according to a report last year by a  group of retired military leaders. About a third of U.S. children and teens are now considered overweight or obese, the report by the nonprofit group Mission: Readiness stated. 

Shapiro said the military academy, the Veterans Health Administration and other organizations around the nation have been opting for meatless Monday policies to improve human health, support sustainable agriculture and cut costs.  “In short, the reason why so many more institutions want to add this is, first and foremost, to improve health,” he said. 

Ernst grabbed attention two years ago with a campaign ad in which she stated: “I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm, so when I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork.”