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Former President Bill Clinton was well known for his appetites while at the White House.
The man jogged to McDonald’s for a Big Mac. His ability to pile a plate high with crispy pieces of fried chicken, mounds of barbecued pork and slabs of smoky ribs was legendary.
But last year the former chief executive shocked America with a real dietary stunner. Clinton announced he was giving up meat and dairy and undertaking a vegan diet. Following a vegan diet means Clinton will not eat any product that comes from animals.
He told reporters that he made the decision after suffering through two major heart procedures.Clinton has undergone bypass surgery and has had stents put in some of his arteries to keep them open.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals responded by naming Clinton its "Man of the Year."
It said: "By choosing a plant-based diet, President Clinton has spared the lives of nearly 200 animals a year..."
Did they say 200?
We understand that beef is what’s for dinner, but 200 sounds like Bill was ravaging pastures of cows, not to mention barnyards of chickens and pigs -- the other white meat.
PETA’s estimate is still being disseminated widely -- it appeared just last week in a Los Angeles Times article.
A PETA spokeswoman told PolitiFact Georgia the group actually has no way of knowing precisely how much meat Clinton ate or how many animals were slaughtered to satiate his carnivorous cravings. But the organization conducted a study that determined the average meat-eating American is responsible for the deaths of 198 animals annually.
It used statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and other sources to calculate the total number of animals raised in the United States and imported for American consumption. PETA then divided the total number of butchered animals by the U.S. population, minus the estimated number of vegetarians and vegans of course.
It didn’t count eggs. But it did count every chicken, cow, pig, fish and duck. But -- and this is where it gets a bit murky -- PETA also counted shrimp, clams, lobsters, oysters, scallops and any other animals that died as part of dairy and meat production.
Chris Hurt, a professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University, said this sounds like a reasonable approach and could provide an accurate average. But he still thinks the number is misleading the way PETA used it.
The USDA estimates the average American eats about 85 pounds of chicken, 58 pounds of beef, 46 pounds of pork, 16 pounds of turkey, 1 1/2 pounds of veal and 1 pound of lamb each year.
Hurt estimated -- and he stressed estimated -- this would equal about 28 chickens, one turkey, and a fraction of a cow, pig, and lamb per person annually. This comes to about 30 animals per year, well short of PETA’s 200 number.
Hurt, however, did not include sea creatures in his estimate. The majority of the animals killed would have to be small sea creatures for PETA’s estimate to stand, Hurt said.
"Perhaps the misinterpretation is that these are farm animals we’re talking about," he said. "That’s a little misleading."
The average American eats 15.8 pounds of fish and shellfish a year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That includes an average of 4.1 pounds of shrimp per person, 4.6 pounds of fish filets and steaks, and 2.5 pounds of canned tuna.
James Dunn, a professor of agricultural economics at Pennsylvania State University, said even counting the small creatures he thinks the PETA number still sounds "way too high."
The National Meat Association said the number doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
"They’re only saying that because it sounds good and people can wrap their minds around," said Jeremy Russell, director of communications and government relations for the association.
While PETA’s spokeswoman acknowledges its number includes bivalves and other creatures, its number seems to imply a vegan is saving the lives of cute cows, adorable baby chickens and Wilbur-like pigs. Those are, after all, the animals PETA chooses to showcase on its website.
PETA’s statement is technically accurate. But it leaves out important details.
That’s our definition of Half True.
Interview, Nicole Dao, media liaison for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Aug. 22, 2011
Interview, Chris Hurt, a professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University, Aug. 24, 2011
Interview, James Dunn, a professor of agricultural economics at Pennsylvania State University, Aug. 26, 2011
Interview, Jeremy Russell, director of communications and government relations for the National Meat Association, Aug. 23, 2011
Interview, Daren Williams, executive director of communications for the NationalCattlemen's Beef Association, Aug. 24, 2011
Interview, Stephen Minvielle, director of the Louisiana Crawfish Association, Aug. 26, 2011
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Seafood Consumption Declines Slightly in 2009
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, www.peta.org/
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