Colorado Gov. Jared Polis eats a Burger King Impossible Whopper in his office at the Capitol on Aug. 15.

Bill Hammerich

Bill Hammerich

Agriculture is a significant contributor to Colorado’s economy, generating more than $40 billion in economic activity annually and supporting more than 170,000 jobs. Jobs in transportation, retail sales, food sales and restaurants and tourism are just a few supported by agriculture.

As well as contributing to the state’s economy, agriculture holds a tremendous duty to protect the environment, through stewardship of the land, water and air. Land in farms and ranches provides habitat for wildlife and open space, and, above all, producing food.

Beef, frozen and fresh, is by far and away Colorado’s top export with over $1 billion in exports in 2018 ahead of electronics, medical equipment and aerospace products.

Last week, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis started a food fight with farmers and ranchers when the beef industry learned he made a pitch to the Department of Agriculture leadership that they should research plant-based proteins. In addition to delivering 250 Impossible Whoppers to the department staff. To say the beef industry was astonished is an understatement.

For the governor to suggest that Colorado agriculture begin focusing on growing vegetables for plant-based proteins is confusing to the farmers and ranchers who have worked the land in rural Colorado for decades. Not only because Colorado’s arid climate doesn’t allow for growing the extensive list of ingredients in plant-based burgers and alternative proteins, but also because Colorado’s beef industry contributes so significantly to the state’s economy.

What our governor should be aware of, is that livestock producers utilize grazing land that is too mountainous, dry or nutrient-poor to be farmed and would otherwise go unused. Livestock convert solar energy in plants that’s inaccessible to humans into high-quality protein and other products such as leather and pharmaceuticals.

Farmers and ranchers share the same motivation behind the governor’s call for innovation. Those who are still farming and ranching today understand all too well the risks of stagnation. The cutting-edge technology used in agriculture provides for our industry’s continued success and allows for the transition of the family business to the next generation.

The technology used to produce beef is the most efficient and sustainable in history. Compared to 1975, today’s beef farmers and ranchers produce the same amount of beef with 36% fewer cattle. This dramatic improvement in efficiency has been driven by improvements in beef cattle genetics, nutrition, biotechnologies, and husbandry practices that result in improved animal well-being. Despite these impressive numbers, cattle producers are still looking for ways to improve.

Don’t get us wrong, as food producers we believe in the consumer's right to choose and that more food options are better than none. What concerns the beef industry about the governor’s support of meat-alternative companies is the false marketing surrounding sustainability and nutrition in order to promote their products. It is misleading and, in many cases, is unsubstantiated by peer-reviewed science and research.

U.S. beef has one of the lowest carbon footprints in the world, 10 to 50 times lower than some nations. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s greenhouse gas emissions inventory, beef cattle only account for 2% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions compared to 28% emissions from transportation. U.S. farmers and ranchers produce 18% of the world’s beef with only 8% of the world’s cattle.

We can assure you, Gov. Polis, Colorado’s beef industry will not go the way of the retail dinosaur, Sears.

Next time the Department of Agriculture staff is looking for a free lunch, we’d be more than glad to set up a grill in Broomfield and barbecue some cheeseburgers for the crew — the beef kind.

Bill Hammerich is the chief executive officer of the Colorado Livestock Association, a membership organization that represents cattle and sheep feeders, cow/calf producers, dairy farmers, swine operation, and agribusiness partners.

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