Colorado cattle

Cattle graze on rangeland in Larimer County on Feb. 13, 2020.

A coalition of agriculture supporters are fighting back against a ballot measure that they say will criminalize commonly-accepted veterinary and animal care practices in Colorado.

The ballot measure, filed on Feb. 22 by animal rights activists, is known as PAUSE: Protect Animals from Unnecessary Suffering and Exploitation. The Secretary of State's title board granted the ballot proponents a title for the measure on March 17. If the proponents can come up with 124,632 valid signatures, the measure will appear on the 2022 ballot. It's statutory, meaning it would require approval from 50% plus one from Colorado voters. 

The measure, which applies to cows, chickens, pigs, goats, sheep or turkeys, puts limitations on when a livestock animal can be slaughtered, limiting it to when the animal has reached a quarter of its adult life-span. For example, a cow could live to 20 years, and under the measure could not be processed until it reaches five years. That's not how the cattle industry works; according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, most cows and steers are processed at between 30 to 42 months.

The same applies to sheep, which the ballot measure said can live to 15 years. At one-quarter its lifespan, that's just under four years. Lambs are slaughtered at six to eight months, according to the USDA. Colorado lamb is among the most-renowned worldwide; the website says chefs nationwide "hail its superior flavor and texture, in part because it is grown for meat, not wool."

A website for the ballot measure claims that while the animal is alive, it must not be abandoned, abused, neglected, mistreated or sexually assaulted. Proponents claim the change in law would remove the cruelty to animals exemption for livestock, add in an exemption to ensure slaughter is still legal once the animal enters adulthood and "remove a loophole in the definition of sexual act with an animal." The website does not say what that loophole is. 

However, animal rights activists, including one nominated to the state veterinarian board by Gov. Jared Polis, have claimed that the act of artificial insemination of a dairy cow constitutes sexual abuse.

The coalition fighting the PAUSE measure, Coloradans for Animal Care, has filed for a rehearing with the Title Board to challenge the March 17 title setting. That coalition includes Colorado Farm Bureau, the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Dairy Farmers, Colorado Wool Growers Association, Colorado Livestock Association and the Colorado Pork Producers Council.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Carlyle Currier, president of Colorado Farm Bureau and a rancher from Molina, said "we’ve come together to oppose one of the most radical and reactionary ballot initiative proposals this state has ever seen. We can’t allow such a direct and brazen attack on one of the state’s largest and most historic industries to go unanswered.”

The ballot measure comes at a time when farmers and ranchers in Colorado claim the meat industry is under attack from Gov. Jared Polis, who declared March 20 "MeatOut Day," an effort to promote a vegan diet. that proclamation backfired, resulting in hundreds of BBQs and other events promoting beef throughout the state last Saturday, as well as more than two dozen resolutions from county commissions in support of agriculture and/or beef.

The Polis proclamation, in addition to promoting a vegan diet, claimed "people are reducing their meat consumption to help prevent animal cruelty," the same intention as the PAUSE measure. Last year, Polis also encouraged the Department of Agriculture to promote vegan alternatives to beef.

However, according to the statement from Coloradans for Animal Care, the coalition fighting the ballot measure, Polis does not support it and "agrees with farmers and ranchers that the PAUSE ballot initiative would hurt Colorado and destroy jobs."

The measure is also opposed by Attorney General Phil Weiser, who said in a tweet that  “CO's farming & livestock businesses are the backbones of CO rural communities. This measure is not based on science and will raise food prices for us all; worse yet, it will cost rural jobs & devastate communities. I will be fighting against it."

“Initiative 16 would eliminate the exception for accepted husbandry practices for animals, which opens the door to allegations that even the most common practices constitute animal cruelty," according to Colorado Cattlemen’s Association president and rancher Janie VanWinkle of Fruita. “For example, if a court concluded that spaying or neutering livestock was an unjustifiable procedure deeming it mistreatment, the rancher could be convicted — perhaps once for each animal.”

The coalition's website said that if successful, the ballot measure wouldn't just ban standard animal husbandry practices. It could also ban rodeos, youth livestock shows, horse shows and other forms of Western culture.  

“As farmers and ranchers, we are all very concerned about the well-being and humane care of our livestock and pets. Initiative 16’s deceptive title belies the irreparable harm this ballot measure will cause,” said Terry Snyder Lamers, president of the Colorado Wool Growers Association.

“Dairy farmers are the ultimate cow care providers. Our main job is to provide comfort to our cows. This ballot initiative ignores science and years of animal husbandry practices designed to give the best quality of life for our animals and produce the highest quality nutritional products for our families and consumers,” said Chris Kraft, chairman of Colorado Dairy Farmers.

Colorado's livestock sector accounts for more than $5 billion in economic activity, more than $1 billion in exports and 150,000 jobs statewide. Beef cattle and dairy products are the state’s two largest ag sectors and create more than $3.6 billion in receipts, according to the coalition.

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