DENVER — A proposed ballot initiative in the city of Denver asks voters to ban slaughterhouses within the city.
The group behind the ballot question, Pro-Animal Future Colorado, says their goal is to build a political movement to improve the welfare of animals not just in Denver but across the state.
“There's been a real growing concern among the public about the suffering of animals in our food system,” said Aidan Kankyoku, the group’s mission lead. “This measure is designed to give Denver voters a chance to say, you know, what kind of world are we trying to create?”
The ballot question comes on the heels of a U.S. Supreme Court decision to uphold California’s Proposition 12 which requires pigs for slaughter to be housed in spaces that allow for free movement.
On Wednesday, more than a dozen protesters gathered outside Superior Farms, Inc. a lamb slaughterhouse in the Globeville neighborhood to speak out against the facility and to hold a vigil for the animals that are processed there.
Kankyoku says the facility fouls up the surrounding neighborhood with noise and smell and negatively affects a disproportionately impacted community. This is the only major processing facility in Denver.
Nevertheless, supporters of the ballot question say even one facility is too many, and this measure is part of a much larger political picture.
“This is definitely not just about trying to move it somewhere else. This is trying to say, you know, we're going to take the first step, and we're going to, you know, invite everyone else to come along with us,” Kankyoku said.
If it makes it onto the ballot and passes, the group says it would be first in the nation legislation that other cities and states could mimic.
Even though it’s still early in the process, though, the measure is already facing significant opposition.
“We are aware of the two proposed initiatives currently out for signature collection in Denver. We are very concerned about the broader negative consequences of these measures that go beyond Denver and the already higher prices on grocery shelves in disenfranchised communities. These proposals will impact the state’s economy, countless jobs, and a much larger ecosystem of long-standing agricultural businesses and employees in the city, region and state,” said Zach Riley, the CEO of the Colorado Livestock Association in a statement to Denver7.
Rep. Richard Holtorf, R-Akron, is a third-generation cattle rancher who ran a flock of ewes and raised feeder lambs. He says the state has a healthy lamb industry that plays an important role in the overall supply chain.
He worries about all the ripple effects a measure like this could have on everyone from the farmers who grow food for the animals to the ranchers who raise them to the truck drivers who transport them to the workers who process them to the wholesalers who distribute them to the retailers who sell them.
“It will hurt an entire industry economically. It will hurt families. It will hurt workers. It'll hurt businesses,” Holtorf said.
He estimates the economic impact of a movement like this to be in the hundreds of millions for Colorado.
The ballot measure does have a provision in it calling for the retraining of employees who would be affected by the slaughterhouse closure to work in the green industry. Opponents, however, say the measure is vague and not enough.
Beyond that, Holtorf says the grasslands where the animals graze in Colorado are too arid to be transitioned to farmland to grow crops.
“You will decimate rural economies all over the United States and our little towns dry up and blow away,” he said.
Pro-Animal Future Colorado is now in the process of gathering signatures to try to get the measure to qualify for the November 2024 ballot. If it passes, slaughterhouses would be banned in Denver starting in 2026.
The group is also collecting signatures for a second ballot question to try to ban fur sales in the city similar to the action Boulder took in 2021. If that measure makes it onto the ballot and passes, fur sales would be banned starting in June of 2025.