Ranchers say proposed animal cruelty ballot measure would be ‘death knell’ for Colorado agriculture industry
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Monday was a busy day for longtime local rancher Doug Monger, because 16 of his cows gave birth.
“It was just the perfect day; thank goodness the weather was good. My son and I and family, we were pretty busy yesterday,” said Monger, also a former Routt County commissioner. “It is a big animal husbandry day.”
Animal husbandry is a term used by ranchers and mentioned in Colorado state law in reference to breeding and raising livestock. It involves practices like artificial insemination and pregnancy checks among other things.
Last fall, Monger gave his cows a pregnancy check, a procedure that requires ranchers to reach into the rear end of the cow. Now a proposed ballot measure seeks to redefine many of these routine operations as “sex acts.”
The proposed ballot measure, brought by the animal rights advocacy group PAUSE — Protect Animals from Unnecessary Suffering and Exploitation — would not only remove agriculture exemptions to animal cruelty laws but also require animals to live at least a quarter of their lives before being slaughtered.
Cattle are generally slaughtered at around 2 years old, but the measure being proposed would require them to be at least 5 years old, adding to the cost of raising the animal and lowering the value of their meat, which ranchers say is tougher and would really only be usable for ground beef.
To get on the ballot in November 2022, organizers for the measure would need to collect 124,632 signatures from registered Colorado voters, the same number that advocates for reintroducing wolves got to get that measure on the ballot in 2020.
Like reintroducing wolves, ranchers say people on the Front Range who don’t fully understand the issue or how it would drastically change the agriculture industry in Colorado will be the ones to support this measure. The difference between this and wolf reintroduction is that it would be much worse, Monger said.
“For us in the (agriculture) business, it will just be the death knell,” Monger said. “We won’t be able to do anything here. We will just send all of our animals, all of our business and all of our agriculture money to other states adjoining us.”
The measure also furthers a narrative in the agriculture industry that Colorado is not a welcoming place for their business. Justin Warren, local rancher and chairman of the Routt County Cattlemen’s Association, said producers from across the country are talking about the initiative in Colorado, and if passed, he said it would make livestock production in the state unprofitable.
“We can’t be letting misinformed people making decisions that is going to affect the livelihoods of a lot of people and the whole state,” Warren said.
While ranchers say a governor’s proclamation declaring March 20 as MeatOut Day exacerbated some of this narrative, when contacted about the proposed ballot measure, a spokesman for Gov. Jared Polis said he strongly opposed the initiative.
“Gov. Polis stands in solidarity with Colorado Farmers and ranchers in opposition to the PAUSE ballot initiative, because it would hurt Colorado and destroy jobs,” said Shelby Wieman, a Polis spokesperson.
Multiple attempts by Steamboat Pilot & Today to reach the designated representatives for the measure were unsuccessful.
Alexander Sage, one of the two representatives, told The Colorado Sun on Monday that the goal of the measure is to “extend the scope of compassion and cruelty to animals,” giving livestock the same protections as pets like dogs and cats.
Sage said the proposal would not prevent spaying, neutering or assisting animals to give birth safely. He told the Sun he consulted with veterinarians while crafting the measure but not the livestock industry.
“We didn’t feel like slaughtering baby animals was humane,” Sage told the Sun. “The average Coloradan, based on a lot of market research, wants the livestock that finally goes on their plate to not be unnecessarily abused.”
Instead, ranchers say what finally goes on Coloradan’s plates will just come from other states because the measure would force producers to move their business elsewhere.
The proposal also defines the life expectancy of certain agricultural animals. For cows, it is 20 years; for pigs and sheep, it is 15 years; for turkeys, it is 10 years; and for ducks and rabbits, it is six years.
A fiscal summary of the measure done by the non-partisan Legislative Council Staff found that if approved, the measure would cost the state about $200,000 to add staffing for additional animal cruelty investigations in addition to increasing costs for local law enforcement agencies.
While the summary does acknowledge the measure would lead to increased costs for producers to raise livestock longer before slaughter and pay higher feed prices, it does not estimate a dollar amount for that impact. The summary also predicts that increased production costs would likely raise the price of meat, potentially forcing consumer demand to shift away from these products.
“It does not talk about the economic consequences of putting 100 feed lots in Weld County and Yuma County out of business. It does not talk about the economic livelihood that those businesses were putting back into their hometowns,” Monger said of the fiscal summary.
Supporters of the measure can start collecting signatures Thursday unless the Secretary of State’s Office receives a challenge, which Sage told the Sun he expected.
“I don’t understand the purpose,” Monger said. “We’re taking care of them; we’re animal husbandry positive and are doing everything that we can do in our manner to make sure that we have healthy lives for these animals.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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