The push to put livestock-handling initiatives on the Colorado ballot in November has come to an end.
Officials with the Humane Society of the United States said they’ve decided against moving forward with their six ballot measures, according to a news release Wednesday.
The news was welcome by many in Colorado’s livestock industry. They’ve long said they’re opposed to having animal-husbandry and animal-welfare practices on farms and ranches more regulated by the state, and that Colorado is already an animal-friendly state.
They point out that the HSUS ranked Colorado No. 7 in the country in its 2013 Humane State Ranking, a comprehensive report that rates all 50 states on a wide range of animal protection laws.
The HSUS’s ballot initiatives, among other things, were aimed at eliminating tail docking, which is the partial amputation of animals’ tails to keep manure, mud and other debris off the animals’ tails. It’s a practice that Colorado livestock producers said is a very rarely used practice in the state, and is already in the midst of being phased out by the industry.
The HSUS initiatives also looked to take away agriculture exemptions from the state’s animal treatment laws.
In explaining their decision to pull back, supporters of the initiatives said in their news release that “the Colorado Legislative Council and Title Board misconstrued our simple and straightforward language. Their action effectively runs out the clock for a refile of new language. We plan to launch a website to educate citizens, including livestock producers, about this abusive practice.”
The ballot initiatives had been a major concern for many in Weld County — the ninth-most ag-productive county in the nation, with the bulk of that production coming from livestock. Greeley is home to the headquarters of JBS USA, one of the four major meat packers in the U.S. To support that facility, Weld has feedlots with tens of thousands of head of cattle and large ranches, and is also a top-20 dairy-producing county nationally.
Among the major concerns was the ag exemption. As Colorado’s laws are now, anything recognized as “accepted animal husbandry practices” isn’t considered animal cruelty. But taking that exemption out of the state’s statute and constitution could put the state’s producers at risk of violations and penalties for using the practices they use now, even though Colorado’s producers are recognized nationally as humane handlers.
Colorado’s livestock industry and HSUS have been butting heads over such issues in recent years.
Since 2008, the HSUS has pushed for a tail docking ban, livestock producers have fought against it, and Colorado legislators have been unwilling to put in place such a mandate.
After seeing its bills fail, the HSUS took a different route in Colorado this year, pushing its six ballot initiatives — three to change the state’s constitution, and three “mirror” initiatives that would change state statute.
In addition to eliminating tail docking and the livestock exemption from animal treatment rules, the measures in the six initiatives, some of which overlap, would have mandated that, for livestock being tethered, those animals have enough room to turn around and stretch their limbs, and that “downer” livestock, or sick livestock, not be sold into the market.
Like all other initiatives, if the language had been agreed upon and if the HSUS could have gathered the approximately 86,000 needed signatures, the measures would have been on a ballot in November, leaving it up to Colorado voters.
On Wednesday, Wayne Pacelle, the national president and CEO for HSUS, weighed in, saying, “The plan to have Colorado agriculture industry representatives conduct ongoing review of animal welfare issues — hatched in 2008 after the passage of a bill to phase out extreme confinement of breeding pigs and veal calves — has been a complete failure. Even though almost every dairy trade industry association and every major veterinary group opposes the unnecessary and inhumane practice of cutting off cows’ tails, this group could not muster the resolve to deal with this problem. We are not aware of any animal welfare improvements that this group has initiated. This leaves us with legislative or ballot initiatives as the only potential pathways for reform.”