Colorado ranchers fight ballot proposal they say would be devastating to ag industry
Colorado ranchers and farmers are fighting against a 2022 proposed ballot measure that they say is yet another attack on the state’s $47 billion agriculture industry.
Initiative 16, a section of which is referred to as “Wilbur’s Law,” adds livestock and fish to the state’s animal cruelty law and redefines what constitutes a “sexual act with an animal,” including practices often used in breeding and animal husbandry. It also requires that slaughtering of livestock only occur if an animal has lived a quarter of its natural lifespan — estimated at 20 years for a cow, for example — which would vastly change current practices, considering cattle are often butchered well before they turn 3.
The website for the ballot initiative, called Protect Animals from Unnecessary Suffering and Exploitation, or PAUSE, says it will extend animal welfare rights to all farm animals and that there is “no rational reason to exempt farmed animals from basic abuse laws that currently exist to protect our pets.”
“After seeing with our own eyes, thousands of chickens on a Colorado organic free range farm left without food and severely abused, we knew there was a discrepancy between the public image and the reality of some farms,” the PAUSE website said.
The two designated representatives of the initiative, Alexander Sage of Broomfield and Brent Johannes of Boulder, did not return The Post’s multiple requests for comment. They would have to gather 124,632 valid voter signatures to get it on the November 2022 ballot.
A coalition of livestock and farming groups called Coloradans for Animal Care opposes the possible ballot measure and challenged the decisions of the state’s Title Board with the state Supreme Court on Wednesday. The coalition believes the title includes “political catchphrases” meant to sway voters. Its members also argue that the proposal deals with at least two subjects when ballot measures can only have one, and that the Title Board’s rules are misleading.
Carlyle Currier, a rancher from Molina and president of the Colorado Farm Bureau, said it simply on the coalition’s website: It’s the “most radical and extreme ballot initiative Colorado has ever seen.” Already, Logan County commissioners signed a resolution opposing the initiative, according to the Sterling-Journal Advocate.
Colorado Livestock Association CEO Bill Hammerich said not only would it hurt the state’s agriculture industry, it’d affect meat and meat product exports, which make up nearly 14% of Colorado’s exports.
“Talk about devastation,” Hammerich said. “Our rural communities would be totally devastated by this.” He added that the Front Range communities would also feel the effects in the long run, because they wouldn’t be able to get local meat.
“They forget” about how Colorado’s economy works
Specialty producer Jennifer Melichar, who owns Boulder Beef and ranches in La Salle and Longmont, said the slaughtering age restriction is particularly harmful. It’s not financially feasible to feed cows for that long, said Melichar, who generally processes her animals at 18 months.
Not to mention, she added, if ranchers wait that long to process meat, it’ll be tough and flavorless, and consumers would see more fat in the meat. Melichar castrates the steers on her ranch at birth to keep the meat tender, which she said would also be prohibited.
Worker safety is another concern, said northeastern Colorado dairy farmer Mary Kraft. Her farmhands artificially inseminate cows — which would be against the law if the ballot measure passes. Doing so eliminates the need for herd bulls, which are notoriously dangerous, she said, and keeps the cows producing milk.
“I think we have an agenda now in the state of people who want a more, to their word, utopian society, and they forget that our state works because we take advantage of all of the different terrains that we have and all of the different regions that we have,” she said. Kraft added that those in metropolitan areas may not think the initiative is a big deal, but it will greatly affect agriculture, which she calls the “bedrock” of economic viability in rural Colorado.
The Colorado Veterinary Medical Association is also against the measure, writing that it would have “significant, extremely negative impacts on Colorado’s animals, their owners and the veterinary profession.”
“Every veterinarian takes an oath to protect animal health and welfare, prevent and relieve animal suffering, promote public health, and advance medical knowledge,” it said. “Initiative 16 threatens all of those commitments.”
The group worries that veterinarians will face animal cruelty charges for performing routine procedures like spaying and neutering if the measure is passed as written. PAUSE supporters do not believe this is the case, according to the FAQ on their website.
Among the actions in the ballot measure that would be outlawed are “any intrusion or penetration, however slight, with an object or part of a person’s body” into an animal.
The president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Ingrid Newkirk, said in a statement that her organization is reviewing the bill, but it’s “all in favor of pointing out the sexual abuse of farmed animals, including cows who are violated during artificial insemination … piglets who are castrated while fully conscious and without pain relief; and many more.”
The initiative states that it wouldn’t prevent someone from “dispensing care to an animal in the interest of improving that animal’s health,” but opponents say there’s a clear misunderstanding of agricultural practices and caring for livestock.
Republican Rep. Perry Will of New Castle, west of Glenwood Springs, worries that it will pass because the large population centers are not in rural areas and may not understand the true effects of the proposal.
The agricultural industry as a whole has felt under attack for the past couple of years, the rancher/lawmaker said, from the reintroduction of wolves to this proposal. Most recently, people in the industry fought back against Gov. Jared Polis’ “MeatOut” day, which they countered with “Meat In” day.
“It’s basically a showstopper for the ranching industry and in general the agriculture industry in my district,” Will said of Initiative 16.
Polis and Attorney General Phil Weiser, both Democrats, have said they oppose the measure, with Weiser saying on Twitter that it isn’t based in science and would raise food prices (which already are at their highest since June 2014, according to the UN).
In a statement to The Denver Post, Polis’ spokesperson Shelby Wieman wrote that he “stands in solidarity with Colorado farmers and ranchers in opposition to the PAUSE ballot initiative because it would hurt Colorado and destroy jobs.”
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