Colo. governor has a beef with the state’s largest export
On the heels of a devastating downturn in the fed cattle market, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis encouraged employees of the Department of Agriculture to start thinking of ways to include meatless products as they go about their regular work, Joey Bunch reported for Colorado Politics.
Terry Fankhauser, executive vice president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, said while there have been varying reports of what the governor told CDA employees, the outcry of producers within Colorado’s $3.4 billion beef industry, has been clear.
For Colorado Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, the governor’s comments were a continuation of his war on the rural portions of the state.
“It infuriates me that you take the largest economic driver in agriculture, and you poke them in the eye,” Sonnenberg said. “The governor poked that industry in the eye by saying, ‘Hey, Department of ag, why don’t we work on doing meatless or fake meat.’ From my perspective, it continues the war on rural Colorado. That’s our livelihood out here.”
The timing of the governor’s comments, Sonnenberg said, couldn’t have come at a worse time after a fire closed a Kansas Tyson beef plant, sending the fed cattle market reeling. As markets expand for beef worldwide, he said Polis is leading the state down a different path, one that paints beef in a negative light.
The governor shared a Facebook status on Thursday in which he talked about Burger King’s Impossible Whopper, an item thats taste, he said he can’t differentiate from beef, its cost is currently higher than beef, but that he anticipates it costing less than beef in the future.
“I’ll always do my best to ensure Colorado’s farmers and ranchers are positioned to benefit from new technology and new markets,” Polis posted.
The Colorado Cattlemen’s Association shared the post with the status, “The future of agriculture in the governor’s eyes does not involve beef production??? This is not remotely accurate or even likely. We believe in consumers right to choose what they eat but are surprised that Colorado’s Governor would use his office to target beef producing families.”
CCA’s status was removed Thursday night and replaced with a post that said CCA and the governor had spoken, and the trade organization and governor would be meeting in the future. In the post, the CCA thanked the governor for reaching out and engaging with the CCA, indicating perhaps that the post had caught the attention of the governor himself.
Though no specific directives were given by the governor, he told Bunch Thursday, while dining on an Impossible Whopper, that adapting to the market is critical, saying, “Today’s Walmart is tomorrow’s Sears.”
Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenberg said the governor’s visit to the Broomfield headquarters on Wednesday included his comments that consumer trends are changing with the increase in popularity of plant-based meat alternatives. With those changes, she said, his message was communicating his desire for Colorado producers to be prepared to take advantage of those trends.
“It was really coming at it from the business standpoint and that’s really the bottom line from the department’s standpoint,” Greenberg said. “There’s no directive to be researching plant-based proteins. This was really the governor commenting that consumer demand is pushing industry toward these new products and we want to be sure we’re on our toes to be able to take advantage of those any way possible.”
Greenberg said the department continues to support all producers across the state while also looking to the future. She said the feedback from her staff has been positive with all agreeing that Colorado producers need to situate themselves to take advantage of economic opportunities for Colorado producers.
“We want Colorado ag to continue to be a driving force in our economy and livestock producers, cattle producers, are front and center with so many other farmers and ranchers across the state,” she said. “That’s really been unifying this week.”
One CDA staffer, who didn’t wish to be identified, said she was among many staff members who were “mortified” by Polis’ comments. Another staffer pointed out that of the ingredients in an Impossible Burger, sunflower oil and potato protein are grown in the state, while most other ingredients are not.
Sonnenberg said he recognizes that Colorado products are used in some vegetable-based proteins but said Polis’ move is intended to “pick winners and losers.” According to a source within the industry, it is yet to be seen whether a cash-funded agency will seek alternatives to traditional agricultural production under the governor’s direction.
“If I raised soybeans or corn, I would rather sell to somebody that feeds cattle or hogs than someone who eats my product, that burger, once every two or three days,” he said.
Sonnenberg said the move crosses the line in terms of the proper role of government.
On Friday, 250 Impossible Burgers were delivered to Colorado Department of Agriculture employees as Polis promised.
The Fence Post reached out to the governor’s office for an interview but was told he wasn’t available. ❖
— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at email@example.com or (970) 392-4410.