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The World Bank gets good press, though it is seldom up to any good.
Now, at last, one of its programs is coming under fire: subsidies for
beef production in China. The World Bank can loot taxpayers around the
world, bailout bankrupt regimes with other people’s money, wreck
economies with government economic plans, and dispense advice guaranteed
to drive whole countries into ruin. But let it give a dime to support
the consumption of steak, and it risks its very survival.

The program at issue is a $93.5 million loan for 130 feedlots and
processing centers in China. Writing in the New York Times, Neal
Barnard of the Physicians Committee for Responsible
Medicine predicts that this loan will bring disease and cultural
wreckage to the land of “traditional rice and noodle dishes.” The
Committee decries the “Westernization of China’s diet” because it
“promotes not just poor health, but also the inefficient use of food.”

Put yourself in a central-planning mindset. It might appear to be a
waste of resources to use vast
vistas of land so that animals can walk around and feed on them. After
all, can’t the same amount of land be used to grow grain for far more
people than can eat a cow? This seems to make sense, in a twisted sort
of way, until you realize that people love meat. Because markets
allocate resources in efficient ways to satisfy human wants, the
prevalence of meat in a society has always been a sign and symbol of
prosperity.

Knowing nothing except the fact that China is growing more
prosperous, you can predict that
meat consumption is going up. And this is not because it is being
subsidized by the World Bank.
It is because freer markets are bringing people the kind of diet they
want. Rice and noodles are
fine side dishes, but as main dishes, they are mere steps on the path to
a fully developed menu.
They are to meat as socialism is to capitalism.

But hatred of meat, particularly beef, is an article of faith on the
left. They see beef consumption
and the existence of the cow in general as promoting bad health,
environmental degradation,
sexism, patriarchy, and exploitation of every type.

Take a look at Jeremy Rifkin’s 1992 book, “Beyond Beef,” where he
argues that the cow is
“wreaking havoc on the earth’s ecosystems” and perpetuating poverty the
world over. “Cattle
production and beef consumption now rank among the gravest threats to
the future well-being of the earth and its human population,” he says.
“Dismantling the global cattle complex and
eliminating beef from the diet of the human race is an essential task of
the coming decades if we are to have any hope of restoring our planet to
health and feeding a growing human population.”

Rifkin’s book is unintentionally hilarious, as Thomas DiLorenzo and
James T. Bennett argue in
their wonderful book, “The Food and Drink Police.” They point to
Rifken’s linking of beef to the barbecue grill, and the grill to the
perpetuation of violence against women. Rifkin further claims that the
absence of beef has long been used as a pretext for wife beating! As
DiLorenzo and Bennett point out, if this absurd claim were actually
true, it would be a case for subsidizing beef production and steak
houses the world over.

DiLorenzo and Bennett counter these claims with actual evidence. Beef
is not environmentally
wasteful (most grazing land is actually unsuitable for crops), livestock
does not consume half of the world’s grain (the figure is closer to 11
percent), the world is not experiencing a grain
shortage (the world’s annual grain surplus is 200 million tons), and
cows do not erode the soil
and degrade the earth (they actually fertilize the land and provide
incentives for ranchers to
prevent it from becoming barren).

But surely our New York Times writer doesn’t actually go as far as
Rifkin. He doesn’t oppose beef as such. He is just against the World
Bank subsidies to beef in China, in which case a free-market libertarian
would have to agree.

Thanks to the Web, you can easily take a look for yourself. You
discover that this crazy href="http://www.pcrm.org/">Committee actually consists of
vegetarian fanatics who
want to use the government to crack down on meat consumption, not only
in China but also in
America. You can get a “Vegetarian Starter Kit” from them, and you can
sign up for their vicious campaign to sue the dairy industry for those
wonderful ads they run featuring stars with milk mustaches. (The
Committee claims the ads are racially discriminatory, but I won’t go
into the reason.)

If the Committee had its way, there would be no barbecuing, so in the
guise of a criticism of the World Bank, the New York Times is
propagandizing for an insane political movement that wants to take away
a main benefit of a capitalist society: the ability and freedom to eat a
nice slice of roast beef, medium rare. Remember that the next time you
hear about the crazies on the political right. It is the left that is
swarming with them.

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