Activists, ranchers appointed to boards, egg bill written in partnership with HSUS signed to law
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has appointed Ellen Kessler to the public at large position on the State Board of Veterinary Medicine. Kessler is a self-proclaimed animal rights activist and her commentary on social media includes claims that she is “Vegan AF” and “Extreme. Annoying. Vegan.”
Kessler posted support of the recently signed HB 20-1343 Egg-laying Hen Confinement Standards, calling the legislation a baby step “to get to the true goal of animal lovers and that is to not keep chickens for eggs nor food.”
The board Gov. Polis appointed Kessler to regulates and licenses veterinarians in the state with the mission of safeguarding the health, safety and welfare of people and animals by establishing and enforcing professional standards. The board activities include licensing veterinarians, investigating complaints about licensed and unlicensed practice of veterinary medicine, disciplining violators of the law and/or the board’s rules, as well as making, amending and adopting reasonable rules and regulations that govern the conduct of veterinarians. The board is made up of five veterinarians and two public members.
The Fence Post magazine is awaiting response to a Colorado Open Records Act request made to the governor’s office and the office of the first gentleman. When asked about the governor’s appointment of a vegan animal rights activist to the regulatory board, Press Secretary Conor Cahill responded only about Kessler’s dietary choices.
“Every individual whether they come from the private sector or work the land has a desire to contribute to the greater good of our state and our society as a whole. Our state has people with many different dietary habits, some rooted in religion, and some based on health concerns. The governor considers dietary habits a highly personal matter and never asks any applicant for any position what they eat or don’t eat. The majority of state-appointed boards are voluntary positions, the individuals who serve on them have a passion for public service, and the governor just appointed two cattle ranchers to the Parks and Wildlife Commission. The recent appointee to the Board of Veterinary Medicine is a bird breeder with years of animal experience who meets the statutory requirement as a member of the public who is not a veterinarian and who has no financial interest in a veterinary practice.”
Terry Fankhauser, executive vice president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association said he has concerns with Kessler’s ability to objectively evaluate issues related to food animal practitioners given her clear opposition to animal agriculture.
“The question is not about her dietary choices, I don’t think anyone is judging that,” he said. “The question is whether she will be able to serve with the level of responsibility necessary and in an objective way, or will her personal feelings, personal beliefs, and objections get in the way of that. That’s a question for every person who serves on a board, regardless of their background or lunch order.”
OTHER BOARD MEMBERS
The two ranchers appointed to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission are Duke Phillips IV, Colorado Springs, and Dallas May, Lamar. Phillips is the COO of Ranchlands Foundation, a non-profit that includes five working ranches. May is a farmer and rancher who has presented programs on carbon offsets and production methods for the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union.
Polis also appointed James Jay Tuchton, Hasty, as the representative of a non-profit organization that promotes conservation and recognizes non-consumptive use. Tuchton, whose practice, Tuchton Law Office in Centennial, is former general counsel for WildEarth Guardians, former senior staff attorney for Defenders of Wildlife, counsel for Earthjustice Environmental Law Clinic, and a member of the University of Denver Environmental Law Clinical Partnership.
Tuchton’s 2014 paper Getting Species on Board the Ark One Lawsuit at a Time: How the Failure to List Deserving Species Has Undercut the Effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act, details WildEarth Guardian’s “mega-petitions” and “Bio-Blitz,” petitions that sought to list hundreds of species under the protection of the Endangered Species Act. In the paper’s footnotes, he said in his adjunct faculty role, he has long taught a seminar on animal rights and another on wildlife law, calling the Endangered Species Act an animal rights statute.
Tuchton is the current preserve manager of the Southern Plains Land Trust, a group that purchases land to restore “the American Serengeti.”
Appointees will serve until their respective confirmation hearings during the next legislative session, which are public hearings.
This appointment comes on the heels of the passage of HB 20-1343, requiring all eggs sold in the state to come from a cage free environment. Signed at Bluebird Sky Farmstead in Longmont. At the signing, Polis claimed the cage-free law would improve the food system, the quality of food for consumers, food safety and animal welfare. He also said there is an increase in consciousness of animal welfare and the dangers to public health of producing food in conventional ways.
Carried by Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, and Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Wolcott, the bill avoided a ballot initiative threatened by World Animal Protection that would have required earlier transition to cage-free systems as well as prohibiting the sale of calves raised in veal crates or pork from sows raised in gestational crates.
Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R- Sterling, said he was approached about carrying the bill and was adamant about his opposition to it. Among his concerns are the restrictions banning the sale of eggs from other states that do not meet the same standards, creating an interstate commerce violation, and opening the state to lawsuits similar to the one filed against California and it’s nearly identical Prop 12. Blocking eggs from other states not meeting the same cage-free standards, he said, does not protect producers, but sets up producers of all livestock for the same restrictions. That, he said, is issue enough to make the bill his priority to kill, saying he couldn’t “believe the egg folks had signed this deal with the devil.”
Jerry Wilkins is the vice president of the Colorado Egg Producers and the sales and marketing director of Morning Fresh Farms in Platteville. He said the bill isn’t a matter of cracking under activist pressure but responding to retailers — Walmart, Kroger, Starbucks, Safeway, Albertsons, Target, and nearly 200 others — demanding a shift to cage free systems, a marketplace mandate. The bill language, he said, was a joint effort between the CEP, the Colorado Department of Agriculture and HSUS.
Studies show about a 2 cent increase per egg with a cage-free system and, contrary to Polis’ claims, the taste, nutrition and food safety remains the same, albeit with a slightly higher mortality rate for hens. The cost for egg producers to make the shift to cage-free systems will be about $30 per hen with a statewide flock numbering about 5.5 million.
As for interstate commerce concerns, Wilkins said it is equal enforcement of the law regardless of where the eggs are produced, making those concerns a moot point. The flock size in Colorado is capable of meeting consumer demand without out-of-state eggs, something he said stabilizes egg producers’ future and ability to invest in their operations.
“The nice thing about this bill is it provides certainty to our future, it doesn’t leave ambiguity, so we know how to invest, where to invest, on what timeline,” Wilkins said. “It provides certainty to the egg-producing community and that gives us the confidence to go and invest in Colorado.”
Wilkins said working with HSUS was surprisingly amicable and his conversations with Josh Balk, HSUS vice president of farm animal protection were productive and professional. As promised, Wilkins has a letter in hand from HSUS assuring that they will not return to Colorado with legislation or a ballot initiative regarding egg production. He also has a letter from World Animal Protection indicating that the ballot initiative was withdrawn. This isn’t Wilkins’ first time on the front lines with activist groups. He worked on behalf of the CEP in 2008’s Colorado Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Initiative, which was ultimately withdrawn.
Rep. Richard Holtorf, R-Akron, said the animal rights activists’ approach is nothing less than mafia-style coercion and political pressure to pass a bad bill under a governor who clearly doesn’t care for animal agriculture.
“I was disappointed, I was troubled with how it was done and our inability as agriculture stakeholders and producers and producer organizations to push back and fight this,” he said.
Holtorf fears this has kicked the door open for other activist groups to set their sights on Colorado’s producer families.
“This is not a Colorado solution to a Colorado problem,” he said. “This is an activist organized attack on production agriculture and is a solution looking for a problem.” ❖
— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at email@example.com or (970) 768-0024.