Suiting Up For Defense

by Kayla Sargent

Colorado beef producers suited up and took to the line of defense this week after Governor Polis suggested the new Colorado Department of Agriculture lab shift their research to “fake meat” and even had 250 Impossible Whoppers from Burger King delivered to the lab staff.

Governor Polis told Colorado Politics, while munching on an Impossible Whopper, that “everything that’s in this was grown on a farm.”  That’s why he encouraged the staff at the Department of Agriculture to begin thinking about ways to include the alternative protein product in their work.

“We want to make sure the future works for us across everything we do,” Governor Polis said, emphasizing the importance of adaptation in the marketplace and suggesting that the meatless trend will be followed with an economic trend.  “Today’s WalMart is tomorrow’s Sears.”

While Governor Polis has not issued an official statement or spoken to the press about the promotion of the alternative protein since it was first reported by Colorado Politics, ranchers responded loud and clear.

Both Colorado Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) and Colorado Livestock Association (CLA) reached out to the Governor hoping for an opportunity to visit about some common misconceptions about beef production and how those falsities are used to promote products made by Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat.

“CCA swiftly engaged with the Governor about beef production’s integral place in both Colorado’s economy and consumers’ households,” the organization said.  CCA said they sought clarification of the Governor’s comments and “while extremely disappointed, CCA understood it was necessary to break down these communication barriers to combat the misinformation that is currently circulating about imitation protein.”

Agriculture contributes $41 billion to Colorado’s economy and cattle production makes up the largest sector of agriculture in the state.  Not only is it important to the economy, but it provides a quality protein choice and additional ecosystem service that Coloradans value, CCA President Steve Wooten stated.

“Beef producers in Colorado not only provide a safe, wholesome product at an affordable price for consumers, but also provide an abundant open space, wildlife habitat, and clean air and water, things Coloradans cherish — at no additional charge,” Wooten said.

CCA posted on social media that they had been in touch with Governor Polis and thanked him for reaching out and engaging.  CCA said the organization looks forward to engaging with Governor Polis to “foster a continued dialog centered around issues of mutual importance.”  The group is launching soon as an outlet for “factual, transparent” information about beef production.

Similarly, CLA penned a letter to the Governor reiterating the importance of beef production to Colorado’s economy.  According to the letter, beef is Colorado’s top export, exceeding $1 billion in 2018.

“So, when we learned of the meeting held at the Department of Agriculture that promoted the Impossible Burger and suggested that the state be focused on research into plant-based proteins we felt it necessary to respond,” CLA President Mike Veeman and CEO William Hammerich wrote.

CLA addressed the Governor’s comment that all the ingredients in the Impossible Whopper were grown on a farm by explaining that “Colorado’s climate doesn’t allow for the growing of the majority of the ingredients in plant-based burgers.”  More importantly, they pointed out that “the good news is, for hundreds of years, livestock producers have been utilizing non-arable land in rural parts of Colorado to convert solar energy in plants that’s inaccessible to humans into high quality protein, micronutrients, and ancillary products such as leather and pharmaceuticals.”

The pair were sure to note that CLA “believes in the consumer’s right to choose and that more food options are better than none.”  But the main concern they highlighted was that companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat depend on “false marketing surrounding sustainability in order to promote their products.”  They called the marketing claims “misleading” and “in many cases, unsubstantiated by peer-reviewed science and research.”

For example, Beyond Meats “Mission” page on their website promotes their cause by suggesting that “animal-based meats” have negative effect on health, by increasing cancer and heart disease risk; the environment, by contributing “51 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions through livestock rearing and processing; global resource constraints; and animal welfare.

CLA addressed each of these false claims by promoting “beef’s true sustainability story.”  The letter emphasized the improvements in U.S. beef efficiency citing that today, American farmers and ranchers produce the same amount of beef as they did in 1975 with 36 percent fewer cattle.  These increased efficiencies mean less water, land and feed are used in the production of beef.  Fewer cattle also means lower greenhouse gas emissions and the letter noted that U.S. beef production actually only contributes 3.3 percent of nationwide emissions.  Further, agriculture land and improvements to land use has allowed the industry to remove 172 million metric tons of carbon from the atmosphere in 2017.

Veeman and Hammerich also explained the feed conversion efficiencies of today’s beef cattle citing that the industry provides over two times more high-quality protein than cattle consume.  To add to that, “90 percent grain-finished cattle feed is inedible to humans, meaning these plants can only provide value to humans when they’re upcycled by cattle into high-quality protein,” they wrote.

“There is no argument that beef is a sustainable high-quality product that Colorado should be proud of and that its Governor should stand behind,” the letter concluded.  The pair requested an opportunity to further discuss the future of the industry with Governor Polis.  As of press time, he had not responded.

R-CALF USA President Gerald Schreiber is a cattle producer from Woodrow, Colorado.  After he heard about Governor Polis promoting the Impossible Burger he issued a response expressing his frustration with the state’s leader.

“I was very disturbed by Governor Polis’ publicity stunt with the Impossible Burger and his advancement of his own personal dietary agenda to the detriment of cattle producers,” Schreiber said.

According to Colorado Politics reporter Joey Bunch, who visited with the Governor and broke the story, Polis is not a vegan.  However his partner has been a vegan for 15 years and is an outspoken animal rights activist, Bunch said.

Schreiber noted that Governor Polis has “pushed many radical, morally repulsive initiatives” while in office and called the latest suggestion “another brazen, in-your-face effort to dismantle fundamental economic foundational Colorado industries.”  He said the Governor clearly supports “the corporatists’ agenda.”  Schreiber noted that “cattle producers and animal agriculture are in his sights.”

According to Senator Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling), Governor Polis has been waging war on rural Colorado.  He believes his recent promotion of the Impossible Burger will drive more people in livestock-producing areas of the state to a recall petition that has been underway against the Governor.  Colorado Politics reported that after news broke, the recall groups’ social media accounts “lit up.”

“It makes my blood boil,” Senator Sonnenberg told Colorado Politics.  “It just floors me that he would go to the Department of Agriculture, of all places, and say something like that.

Senator Sonnenberg called it a “poke in the eye of the livestock industry” and suggested that the Governor “has it backwards in thinking vegan is the future.”

Schreiber said Governor Polis “displayed an ignorance and arrogance about the beef industry” and said he “evidently has no understanding of the ruminant animal.”  He asserted that Governor Polis’ “misinformed assessment” came from a “radical, morally repugnant notion that cattle are bad and harmful to the environment.”  Schreiber called on all cattlemen to join forces and “reject this Governor’s extremist views and tactics.”


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