Agriculture is a significant contributor to Colorado’s economy, generating more than $40 billion in economic activity annually and supporting more than 170,000 jobs. Jobs in transportation, retail sales, food sales and restaurants, and tourism are just a few industries supported by agriculture.
As well as contributing to the state’s economy, agriculture holds a tremendous duty to protect the environment, through stewardship of the land, water and air. Land in farms and ranches provides habitat for wildlife and open space, and, above all, producing food.
Beef, frozen and fresh, is far and away Colorado’s top export with over $1 billion in exports in 2018, putting it ahead of electronics, medical equipment and aerospace products. So, when the beef industry learned that Colorado Governor Jared Polis made a pitch to the Department of Agriculture leadership that they should research plant-based proteins and delivered 250 Impossible Whoppers to the department staff, you can bet we were astonished.
For the governor to suggest that Colorado agriculture begin focusing on growing vegetables for plant-based proteins is confusing to the farmers and ranchers who have worked the land in rural Colorado for decades. Not only because Colorado’s arid climate doesn’t allow for growing the extensive list of ingredients in plant-based burgers and alternative proteins, but also because Colorado’s beef industry contributes so much to the state’s economy.
What the governor should be aware of is that livestock producers utilize grazing land that is too mountainous, dry or nutrient poor to be farmed and would otherwise go unused. Livestock are able to convert solar energy in plants that’s inaccessible to humans into high quality protein and other products such as leather and pharmaceuticals.
Farmers and ranchers share the same call for innovation. Those who are still farming and ranching today understand all too well the risks of stagnation. The cutting-edge technology used in agriculture provides for continued success and allows for the transition of the family business to the next generation.
The technology used today to produce beef is the most efficient and sustainable in history. Compared to 1975, today’s beef farmers and ranchers produce the same amount of beef with 36 percent fewer cattle. This dramatic improvement in efficiency has been driven by improvements in beef cattle genetics, nutrition, biotechnologies, and husbandry practices that result in improved animal well-being. Despite these impressive numbers, cattle producers are still looking for ways to improve.
Don’t get us wrong, as food producers we believe in the consumer's right to choose; more food options are better than none. What concerns the beef industry about the governor’s support of companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat is the false marketing surrounding sustainability and nutrition in order to promote their products. It is misleading and, in many cases, is unsubstantiated by peer-reviewed science and research.
U.S. beef has one of the lowest carbon footprints in the world, 10 to 50 times lower than some nations. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s greenhouse gas emissions inventory, beef cattle only account for 2 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions compared to 28 percent contributed by transportation.
U.S. farmers and ranchers produce 18 percent of the world’s beef with only 8 percent of the world’s cattle.
We can assure you, Governor Polis, Colorado’s beef industry will not go the way of the retail dinosaur you compared us to, Sears.
Next time the Department of Agriculture staff is looking for a free lunch, we’d be more than glad to set up a grill in Broomfield and barbecue some cheeseburgers for the crew – the beef kind.