WASHINGTON -- Alex Hershaft, president of the Farm Animal Reform Movement, hopes thousands of Americans are going meatless today in observance of the first Great American Meatout.
The meat-out is patterned after the American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout -- a day in which Americans are asked to refrain from smoking.
'Nearly 1.5 million Americans are crippled and killed each year by chronic diseases that have been linked conclusively with excessive consumption of animal products,' the Farm Animal Reform Movement claims.
'Raising animals for food consumes up to 90 percent of our agricultural resources, depletes our topsoil and ground water, pollutes our lakes and streams, destroys forests and other wildlife habitats, and causes intense suffering to 6 billion animals annually.'
Mary Burnette, vice president of communications for the American Meat Institute, said, 'I am not intimidated by them; I am concerned about the misleading information they are passing along to the American consumer.'
Thousands of wallet-sized pamphlets called 'Meat Facts' are being distributed by the Farm Animal Reform Movement, claiming meat consumption is responsible for vast amounts of human and animal suffering.
Burnette, whose group represents about 425 U.S. companies in the meat business, said the claims are 'frought with emotional rhetoric.'
Hershaft, national Meat-out coordinator, said, 'It's very, very similar to the controversy surrounding tobacco. Basically you have an industry trying to protect its own vested interests.'
'That's a very far fetched statement,' Burnette said. 'Tobacco is a product proven to cause health problems. You cannot draw a correlation with meat.'
Alleged hazards from meat and ecological damage caused by meat production are not widely publicized because the meat industry is a major part of the economy of four-fifths of the states, Hershaft said.'
'Red meat is a significant contributor to the nutritional well being of this country's health,' Burnette said. 'The meat industry does take a great deal of care to ensure safe, wholesome practices.'
Hershaft, a vegetarian for 22 years, said he left a $50,000-a-year job as an environmental consultant in Washington in 1981 to help found the Farm Animal Reform Movement. 'I just felt that I wasn't making enough of a contribution.' He now works as a full-time volunteer for the group.
The Great American Meatout, which Hershaft said will be an annual event, will focus on 26 major cities and feature events such as pickets at restaurants and supermarkets, information tables in shopping malls, presentations before schools and civic groups, meatless cooking classes, and an information hotline.