‘It cripples our industry:’ Moffat County’s ag producers push back against PAUSE initiative
For the Craig Press
Editor’s note: This story was updated to clarify ownership of the Villard Ranch and the signatures needed to get on the 2022 ballot.
Melody Villard doesn’t know whether to accuse the organizers of the PAUSE initiative of incompetence or resoluteness. Either way, if voters approved it, she believes the state’s agricultural industry as we know it would collapse.
“It’s either well thought out to cripple an industry,” Villard said, “or it’s not well thought out at all, and it cripples our industry.”
Villard is a Moffat County Commissioner, but she says “our” because she and her husband run Villard Ranch, a Craig sheep operation that’s been in their family for a century. The ag industry is so rankled by ballot Initiative 16 that a coalition of livestock and farming groups protested before the state’s Title Board, stating that the name was a political catchphrase. The name, Protect Animals from Unnecessary Suffering and Exploitation (PAUSE), seems cute if you say the abbreviated version out loud, but producers such as Villard call it an attack against the ag industry as well as private pet breeders.
The initiative adds livestock and fish to the state’s cruelty law, redefines what constitutes a sexual act with an animal and requires that slaughtering of livestock only occurs after the animal has lived a quarter of its lifespan.
All that would change the way livestock and breeders operate their businesses, to the point that it would probably run them and all the supportive industries such as feed and fencing out of business, Villard said.
“There are so many small ripple effects that would make this a huge problem,” she said. “It would kill the industry in Colorado. It’s all so tied together.”
Villard raises lambs for consumption. They are born in May, and she sells most of them to a livestock operator in October. Those are butchered a few months later. The initiative would force Villard to keep her animals for two or even three more years than she does now. That would wipe out her grazing land and strain her water resources for what she calls an arbitrary lifespan. The meat also would be flavorless, fatty and tough.
The organizers listed on the PAUSE website didn’t return calls for comment. The website says the initiative would “extend basic decency to farm animals.” The initiative, the site states, would define cruelty to farm animals, and it says organizers were inspired after seeing a chicken farm with starving and severely abused animals. The initiative needs nearly 125,000 signatures to get on the November 2022 ballot.
But those definitions listed above have practically every agricultural organization against it, including the Colorado Livestock Association and a coalition that calls itself Coloradans for Animal Care. They are joined by Gov. Jared Polis’ office, the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association and the Colorado Federation of Dog Clubs and Owners. Moffat County Commissioners also approved a resolution against it, as have many other county commissions across the state.
The vet association and the federation are concerned about traditional animal husbandry practices being challenged by the initiative, including artificial insemination and simple practices such as spaying and neutering. The website says fixing an animal would not be affected by the initiative, although it would prevent castration.
Dog breeders use insemination when it’s difficult to find a mate in the area and to avoid using the same genetic bloodlines (using siblings for example) and preserve endangered species, said Linda Hart, the legislative director for the Colorado Federation of Dog Clubs and Owners.
“This initiative gives them free rein to define what is cruel and what is not cruel,” Hart said. “It puts it out of the hands of the experts. Breeders and people who deal with the animals on a daily basis have set up basic standards of care for those animals.”
Most breeders won’t tolerate abuse of their animals because it’s not good business, Hart said.
‘“Otherwise they wouldn’t be in it,” she said. “If you don’t care for them they don’t thrive, and if they don’t thrive you spend extra money and you don’t do well with your animals. They don’t show well. People watch that and know that. We self patrol ourselves.”
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