Three weeks after Colorado Gov. Jared Polis called agriculture the “cornerstone to the foundation of our state” in an open letter aimed at preserving the National Western Stock Show’s future in Colorado, he signed a proclamation promoting a March 20 Meat Out Day and the removal of animal products from the diet.
This slight aimed at the state’s $4.6 billion animal protein industry isn’t the first from the governor and comes in the midst of the introduction of multiple pieces of legislation that are potentially damaging to the agriculture industry.
Prior to Polis’ letter, another was sent by Kelly Brough, CEO, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and Lauren Masias, director, Colorado Competitive Council, to the cattle breed associations that moved their shows from the postponed NWSS to Oklahoma’s Cattlemen’s Congress. That letter touts the business organizations’ support of the agriculture community and seeks to clarify that the groups hope those competitors and organizations will return to Denver.
Following the announcement of the proclamation, Brough reiterated her organization’s support of the industry. “We’re proud of our agriculture industry in Colorado,” she said. “It’s part of our Western heritage and culture, and it’s key to our state’s economy, generating $40 billion in economic activity annually and providing jobs to more than 170,000 Coloradans. Agriculture, particularly beef, is also our number one export. Countries like Canada, Mexico, Korea and China are buying our beef, bringing nearly $900 million back to Colorado. We also know that Colorado is a hub for agritech companies, which are improving sustainability and increasing efficiency. The National Western Stock Show and the investments being made in the new National Western Center are furthering our state’s position as a global player in agriculture, and we will continue to support this crucial part of our Colorado economy.”
Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenburg, who also signed the open letter with Polis, issued a statement saying that “Beef is a key driver of Colorado’s economy, as the number one agricultural commodity and with a presence in every county in the state. Our livestock producers are part of the backbone of Colorado’s rural communities, providing day-to-day stewardship for the vast majority of public and private land in our state while helping ensure a safe, high-quality food supply for a growing population. As Colorado’s Commissioner of Agriculture, I am proud to work alongside and in support of our state’s livestock producers, just as CDA has done for the past 155 years.”
Clay Schilling, a western Kansas rancher and longtime NWSS exhibitor said Polis’ comments and combative attitude toward the livestock industry will end their years attending NWSS and they will instead exhibit cattle at Oklahoma’s Cattlemen’s Congress.
“We have had a lot of success out there and a lot of good memories,” he said.
The Schilling crew, who typically spend at least $10,000 in Denver annually during the shows, made the 8-hour trip to Oklahoma City for what he said was a well-run show and where they received a warm welcome.
“I can give that sales tax money to the city and county of Denver when Colorado is putting out anti-agriculture publicity, or I can give it to the state of Oklahoma which is pro-agriculture,” he said. “As an industry, we have to support those who support us. Spending our tax money in Colorado is no different than making a donation to PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) at this point.”
Schilling said he has respect for the NWSS staff that puts the 16-day event on but will not continue to support a state that is no longer friendly to agriculture based on how the state government is operating when it comes to agriculture issues.
Paul Andrews, CEO of the National Western Stock Show said he was disappointed by the proclamation. He said the NWSS staff will be joining the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association for the Meat In event announced this week to promote beef, support area restaurants, and raise funds for the Beef Sticks for Backpacks program.
“The producers and the exhibitors that come to stock show know they’re loved by 99.9% of this state,” he said. “We’ll keep loving them at the National Western Stock Show, I assure you, no matter what proclamation there is.”
Andrews said the facilities scheduled to open this year are built specifically for cattlemen, with electricity and water in the pens, changing the way cattle are exhibited in the Yards for the better.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt spoke to the crowd at the Cattlemen’s Congress, a show that replaced the NWSS after it was postponed due to restrictions in the city and county of Denver and statewide.
“This event is so important to the beef industry and we are so proud to get it done in the state of Oklahoma,” Stitt said. “When other states said ‘no, they’re shut down,’ in Oklahoma we said, ‘let’s go, let’s make it happen.’ In Oklahoma, we’re always going to fight for the ag community and this way of life.”
Stitt invited exhibitors to return for what he said he hopes is an annual event. A few weeks later, he told legislators that the event brought $50 million to the state.
“The folks in Denver turned their back on the ag industry,” he said. “They wouldn’t let them have their major national cattle show because they insisted on keeping their state locked down. That put the stability of the U.S. beef industry in danger, so we started a new tradition here in Oklahoma City and the Cattlemen’s Congress brought $50 million to our economy.”
On February 3, Oklahoma Sen. Casey Murdock, R- Felt, introduced a resolution “encouraging and inviting the exhibitors, breed associations and partners to return to Oklahoma to begin a new tradition of a perpetual Cattlemen’s Congress in Oklahoma.” According to the resolution, 2,793 exhibitors from 41 states and three Canadian provinces exhibited 9,627 head of cattle. The 23 cattle sales associated with the event grossed more than $10 million with an average of $7,254 per lot.
Gov. Stitt signed the resolution one day prior to Polis’ Meat Out proclamation, making good on his promises to make the event a new tradition.
Sterling Livestock Commission is one of multiple groups hosting their own events on Polis’ Meat Out day to support the state’s protein industries. According to Jason Santomaso, all of the proceeds from the event will be donated to local children’s charities. Livestock Exchange, Inc. in Brush is hosting a Meat In event as well to promote the protein industry.
The language in the governor’s proclamation claims that a plant-based diet can “protect the environment by reducing our carbon footprint, preserving forests, grasslands, and wildlife habitats, and reduces pollution of waterways.” Additionally, it suggests that “removing animal products from our diets reduces the risk of various ailments, including heart disease, high-blood pressure, stroke, various cancers, and diabetes.”
According to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, emissions from cattle, including those that come from the feed production, fuel, and electricity only account for 3.7% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. As for the proclamation’s health claims, the Beef WISE study, conducted by the University of Colorado Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, also demonstrates that eating lean beef four or more times a week, as part of a healthy, higher-protein diet, combined with physical activity, can help people lose weight and fat mass while maintaining lean muscle, and supporting heart health.
Despite Polis’ claims that his administration is “steadfastly committed to the future of agriculture” and the “incalculable benefit” agriculture brings to the state, his press secretary Conor Cahill said “the office gets hundreds of requests for proclamations throughout the year and rarely declines these non-binding ceremonial proclamations that get auto penned by the governor. For example, the governor has issued proclamations for Agriculture day, Colorado Farm Bureau Day, and Truck Driver Appreciation Day. Typical proclamations throughout the year highlight industries, medical conditions, organizations, retirements, and birthdays, etc. Furthermore, we have issued two proclamations for Colorado Farmer’s week (lauding farmers markets, fruits and vegetables), three for Colorado Ag Day, two for Colorado Proud School Meal Day, two for Colorado Proud, one for CSU Ag day, one for MeatOut Day, one for Colorado Farm Bureau Day, Rocky Ford Cantaloupe Day, Breakfast Burrito Day, Bat Awareness Week, Sesame Street Day, Car Wash Day, and many others.”