LANSING, MI –
A taste for pork, beef and poultry became a political controversy Wednesday at the state Capitol as farmers and legislators called on Governor Granholm to reverse her proclamation declaring Saturday Michigan Meatout Day.
The timing was poor, to say the least. The news broke that Governor Granholm had signed the proclamation declaring Saturday Michigan Meatout Day as hundreds of crop growers, livestock farmers, and food processors were preparing to converge on the Capitol for their annual agriculture day. Agriculture is a $70 billion business in Michigan. More than half of that is related to livestock.
The governor's proclamation extols the virtues of reducing or eliminating meat from diets, including reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes. And that did not sit well, or rather not at all, with the beef, pork, and poultry farmers visiting the Capitol - including Harley Sietsema, who owns large-scale hog and turkey farms in west Michigan.
"I'm just disappointed in the administration, either her or her staff," he says. "Agriculture is the Number Two industry in this state and we produce some really high-quality safe and affordable food. We need a balanced diet. That requires protein along with carbohydrates. So a mix of those vegetables with some good turkey meat or pork, we think is an excellent idea."
And it did not sit well with rural lawmakers. State Senator Ron Jelinek represents a rural district in southwest Michigan.
"What? The governor is encouraging people not to eat Michigan meats?" he exclaims.
"Excuse me, governor, this is like telling people not to buy Fords or Chevys that are made in Michigan."
Republicans could not pass up the opportunity to hammer the governor on what appears to be a misstep. The Senate debated the governor's proclamation for more than an hour before adopting a resolution asking her to rescind it.
The governor's office says no disrespect was intended to livestock farmers, and she did place a call to the Michigan Farm Bureau to reiterate her support for agriculture. Her office issued a statement saying this was just one hundreds of proclamations and it was based on a constituent request. And it says similar proclamations have been issued in 31 other states.
But the controversy did cost the governor a precious day as she pushes for action in the Legislature on some time-sensitive issues. She said earlier that the Legislature needs to send her a bill by April first - less than two weeks away -- that would save schools money by encouraging veteran teachers to retire. And she says the need is urgent to fund the Pure Michigan tourism campaign as television ad schedules fill up. She says April is already gone and May, when people are making summer travel plans, is slipping away.
"This is an opportunity for us to play offense and not just to play defense," she says.
But the governor was playing defense, at least for the day as the "meatout" controversy diverted attention from those issues.
The governor has signed another proclamation also declaring Saturday as Michigan Agriculture Day, praising Michigan's agriculture industry, and asking people to include in their diets a healthy measure of meat products made in Michigan.
And Saturday may now be shaping up to be a carnivorous cultural event. Republican Attorney General Mike Cox, who is running for governor, says he will host a barbecue in front of his campaign office. And Granholm's spokeswoman says the governor is not likely to pass up the barbecue chicken wings as she follows the NCAA basketball tournament.