Within the space of just five weeks, we find ourselves again defending Colorado ranchers and farmers against an irrational political salvo (March 19, “Governor blunders with ‘MeatOut Day’ proclamation”).
This time, the issue is a ballot initiative with an appealing title: “Protect Animals from Unnecessary Suffering and Exploitation (PAUSE).” Heck, who doesn’t want to do that?
But the title is misleading at best. The proposed statute would decimate the agricultural industry and Colorado’s economy while making it very expensive to eat meat – most of which would be old and tough.
The initiative purports to improve on Colorado’s existing animal cruelty statute. Proponents received approval by the state Title Board that this nonsensical screed is good to go; they will now seek the 124,632 signatures necessary to place it on the 2022 ballot.
Lots of people who care about animals will be misled into believing this is a good thing. But we have seen no evidence it is needed.
The proposed statute would require animals raised as livestock to live to one-quarter of their “natural lifespan” before slaughter. Sounds good, right? Not if you’re familiar with livestock practices.
Lorene Bonds, a fourth-generation Colorado rancher and livestock supervisor of the La Plata County Fair, explained why: Beef cattle, for example, are generally slaughtered at 18 to 24 months. The proposal suggests cattle live to 20 years and thus would be required to live for five years before slaughter.
First of all, Bonds said, the proposal’s authors are misinformed. Cattle don’t usually live beyond 16 years; most die by 14, no matter how humanely treated.
And United States Department of Agriculture food-safety regulations affect the age at which beef can be processed. If the initiative passes, say goodbye to your T-bones; parts of the cow cannot be used for human food after a certain age because of the risk of mad cow disease.
If beef cattle were kept until age 5 before slaughter, the cost to feed them alone would increase by $1,200 per cow, Travis Taylor, a Colorado State University extension agent, told The Fencepost, a national agricultural newspaper. Taylor also said that increasing the production time would reduce the beef supply by 60%. Ultimately, beef prices could double for the consumer.
Colorado would lose in more ways than we can count. Some ranchers would go out of business. Jobs would be lost in a trickle-down. Feed growers would lose money, too (most corn grown in Colorado feeds livestock).
Bonds had an even longer list: If ranches can’t remain profitable, ranchers will subdivide their property, and open space that serves wildlife as well as livestock will be lost. Irrigation water that is returned to the ground would be reduced. Forest allotments that cows help keep clear of wildfire fuel will overgrow. And more.
Perhaps most egregious is the statute’s segment prohibiting any kind of penetration of an animal’s orifices, referred to as “sexual act with an animal” in the initiative. Anyone who’s ever watched “All Creatures Great and Small” or any TV show or film about farming and ranching knows that veterinary medicine and animal husbandry practices include such penetrations as necessities; they are not “sexual acts.”
We want animals to be treated humanely, including animals slaughtered for human consumption, whether on small family ranches or factory farms. We would support evidenced-based, sensible legislation with those values in mind.
But this initiative’s potential impacts are devastating and would drive the wedge between urban and rural Coloradans even deeper.
So, if someone asks you to sign to put Initiative 16 on the 2022 ballot, invite them to join you for a Colorado-grown, organic beef burger (or sure, even a veggie burger) and a locally brewed beer at your neighborhood café instead. Decline to sign.