Urban Allies stand in the gap for ag as proponents gather signatures for 16
Proponents of the PAUSE act, or ballot initiative 16 have begun circulating petitions for signatures, with the first reported signature gathered on April 18, according to the Secretary of State’s website. Although opponents of the initiative are awaiting their day before the state supreme court, the six-month clock for proponents to gather the 124,632 required signatures has begun.
According to the Secretary of State staff, petition circulation may begin after the title board’s final decision. If the state Supreme Court reverses the title setting, any signatures gathered will be null and void. The main question before the Supreme Court is whether or not the Title Board, whose job it is to draft the question that will potentially appear on the ballot, deals with a single subject which is a constitutional requirement in Colorado. The Title Board, comprised of Theresa Conley, David Powell, and Julie Pelegrin, and the opponents of the initiative also filed opening briefs with their arguments regarding the Title Board’s decision.
Initiative proponent Alexander Sage filed an opening brief with the Colorado Supreme Court pro se, with the drafting assistance of Jake Davis, pro bono counsel for The Nonhuman Rights Project in Denver. According to the group’s website, they are the only civil rights organization in the United States dedicated solely to securing rights for nonhuman animals and their work is achieved through litigation, legislation and advocacy, and education. Davis, a staff attorney for the group, worked previously in federal court in the Central District of California, at the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California and is a volunteer at The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg.
In the filed brief, the initiative proponents argue that because animals can be harmed in more than one way, all crimes against animals comprise the single subject of cruelty to animals, proving that the initiative language meets the single subject requirement. Second, the brief argues that the terms “animal cruelty” and “cruelty to animals” are not political catch phrases because it is the title of the statute potentially being changed. It also argues that the “highly charged reference” of including sexual acts with an animal is necessary to include in the title so that voters are provided with the “full picture.”
BRIDGING THE RURAL AND URBAN GAP
Melody Michel, a Front Range-based self-professed city gal co-founded Urban and Rural Allies for Colorado Agriculture, a Facebook page to bridge the gap between agriculture and urban consumers. Michel was raised in the outskirts of Washington, D.C. and said her mom struggled to raise her as a single mom with a mixed-race child in the 1980s. A first generation American, Michel values her ties to her family of origin in Brazil, many of whom were agriculturists.
Living in the nation’s capital surrounded by concrete, Michel’s first experience with agriculture was a trip to a working guest ranch in Big Timber, Montana. She said her mom scrimped and saved to pay for the trip as a high school graduation gift and the two visited during lambing season. She said the experience was the most amazing of her life.
She moved to Colorado in 2006 and said she takes full advantage of the Farmers Markets and CSAs along the Front Range. She met and began dating a rancher, taking every opportunity to visit the multigenerational ranch. While still not involved in agriculture directly, the industry and the people within it have her heart.
“My biggest concern regarding Colorado Ballot Initiative #16 is that, should this legislation pass, they would lose everything,” she said. “Generations of hard work, down the drain. My heart would shatter to see their faces if this legislation were to pass. The slaughter section alone would devastate them as it would increase the time from an annual turn around to a 5-year turn around.”
Through her posts, graphics, and videos on the social pages, Michel offers information about the Initiative tailored to those who are removed from production agriculture. Her hope, she said, is using social media to reach voters outside of agriculture who could vote in favor of the measure without fully understanding the ramifications.
“This wouldn’t be as big of a threat if we had a better understanding of agriculture,” she said. “I’m really tired of us as voters making decisions on these things that look pretty on the outside and then discovering that they’re garbage that hurt us, our children, and our future and are totally misrepresented.”
Last year’s wolf introduction ballot win, she said, was a prime example of urban and metro voters making decisions for rural areas and, after watching that unfold and learning about the consequences, she is determined not to allow it to happen again.
“We’re not going to take things out on our ag community and, in turn, shoot ourselves in the foot,” she said. “It has nothing to do with politics. At the end of the day, it creates divides and agriculture and consumers need each other.”
As for the suggestion that farmers and ranchers should be criminalized for practices like artificial insemination, and calling it sexual abuse, she said the accusation alone is foul.
Michel said a California-based public relations firm has established a Facebook page promoting the Initiative and has posted a survey to identify and rally supporters. The survey itself asks questions to determine basic demographic information, political party, and asks whether potential voters are concerned about animal cruelty. One question asks, “Colorado law prohibits animal cruelty, such as beating, torturing, or needlessly killing or mutilating an animal. It excludes farm animals from these protections against cruelty, as long as treatment is in accordance with ‘accepted animal husbandry practices.’” Another question asked potential voters how concerned they are with accepted animal husbandry practices including the “removal of a baby chick’s beak and toes without anesthesia, separation of babies from mothers within hours or days of birth, dehorning cattle, sheep, and goats without anesthesia, and the killing of chicks by placing into a high-speed grinder or suffocation, castration without anesthesia, and the removal of portions of pigs’, sheep’s, or cattle’s tails without anesthesia.”
The survey goes on to ask potential voters to consider the “arguments in favor of a proposal to change the law so that animal cruelty laws would protect farm animals as well as non-farm animals.” The arguments listed include that “this proposal would prevent bad actors from legally committing animal cruelty, without impacting responsible farms and ranches that treat animals with respect;” “We need to level the laying field, so that big corporate factory farms have to follow the same rules as family farmers and ranchers;” “Factory farms create enormous amounts of dangerous waste that pollutes our air and water. Factory farm runoff from manure and fertilizer should never be near our water- but massive amounts leak in constantly. Meanwhile, these giant factory farms emit more greenhouse gases than entire countries, and give off pollutants that can increases the risk of asthma;” “Corporate agri-business interests are using scare tactics to claim that treating animals humanely will increase the price of food. But other states have enacted similar laws without the price of food increasing. McDonald’s has committed to switching to food that is more humanely raised and says it won’t cost consumers a penny. In fact, according to a study from the pork industry itself, it can cost LESS to stop using inhumane practices;” “This isn’t just about protecting animals- it’s about protecting Colorado consumers from food safety threats, too. Scientists warn about antibiotic-resistant superbugs coming from factory farms; pigs and cows are often forced to live in their own waste and pumped full of drugs to be kept alive;” “Everyone can agree that it would be wrong to castrate a dog or cat without pain killers- so why is it ok to do this to a cow or pig? It’s time to end this double standard for animal treatment in Colorado;” and “This is a reasonable proposal to eliminate the loophole in Colorado’s current law, while having no impact on the majority of Colorado’s family farmers and ranchers who already provide care to ensure the well-being of animals under their stewardship.”
Hannah Thompson-Weeman, vice president of strategic engagement for Animal Ag Alliance, said the nature of the survey questions reveals the true intention of the ballot initiative campaign.
“The initiative is aimed at ending animal agriculture – not addressing any true concerns about animal cruelty – and its proponents will use any means necessary to achieve their goal, including bringing up misinformation about topics such as pollution and antibiotic resistance that are completely irrelevant to the ballot initiative at hand,” Thompson-Weeman said. “If anyone was still unsure about what this ballot initiative is intended to do, these survey questions should clear that up. They are throwing any and all anti-animal agriculture buzzwords at the wall to see what might stick and gain them supporters.”
Weeman, whose work focuses on connecting with agriculture’s stakeholders to arm them with information as anti-ag threats emerge, said there’s no doubt misinformation threatens the nation’s food security.
“Make no mistake, it’s the future of animal agriculture in Colorado and around the country that will be on the ballot next year,” she said.
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