I am a fourth-generation livestock producer in Mesa County. At VanWinkle Ranch, we make our living by stewarding the land and caring for the animals we have responsibility for. There is dignity and honor in the work that we do to support food security here at home in Colorado and around the globe.
We have some serious concerns regarding the recent appointment of Dr. Rebecca Niemic as the Director of the Bureau of Animal Protection (BAP) in the Colorado Department of Agriculture, as well as the process that was used.
Dr. Niemic has significant ties to animal welfare groups that are loudly opposed to livestock production for food. She is currently leading a project in conjunction with the City of Boulder and Mercy For Animals organization that is promoting plant-based food. Mercy For Animals is dedicated to eradicating food animals from our food system. As consumers and livestock producers, this is a very large, and a very red, flag for us that Niemic may not have the best interests of all food production, including food animals, at heart and be able to act impartially in these matters.
Dr. Niemic was an advocate for introduction of wolves into the communities where our fellow producers care for their livestock. We believe that past activities speak loudly and are concerned that someone who advocated so strongly for a cause that has such detrimental consequences to our animals, will be willing to hear our concerns.
As caretakers of animals and food producers in Colorado, we are concerned that it will be very difficult for us to have trust in this person and in the processes of the BAP to ensure that we will continue to be able to operate our businesses and care for our animals in a way that is consistent with best practices of the livestock community, and at the same time continue to contribute to the nation’s food security. We feel that we are under attack, again, from a Colorado Department of Agriculture that is supposed to be advocating for us. The mission statement of the department includes “to strengthen and advance Agriculture….”
We are troubled by the structure of this Department. In the past, the BAP was under the administration of the State Veterinarian, whose role it is to support producers in numerous ways, including livestock disease management. As it is possible that an outbreak of disease could look like a welfare issue, would the BAP folks have the qualifications to consider this without the support of the State Veterinarian? How does the Department of Agriculture expect this to look going forward? In an Agriculture Commission meeting on February 9, 2022, when I asked this question of Kate Greenberg, the Commissioner of Agriculture, she told me that the new position would be reporting to the operations manager of the Department. The State Veterinarian would be on the team. I also asked if Dr. Neimic would continue with her role in the Mercy For Animals project. Ms. Greenberg was unable to say what projects Dr. Niemic would continue to work on.
The selection process is suspect, as well. Deputy Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Silverman put forth a slate of four applicants. There were two people that had experience in handling animal welfare situations and two candidates from extreme animal rights groups. Later, those recommendations were scrapped in favor of Governor Polis’ slate of three different applicants, that all had close ties with extremist animal rights activist groups. According to an article in the The Fence Post, Governor Polis also sat in the interviews of these three candidates. Does the Governor generally involve himself in mid-level staff interviews?
We are imploring the Department of Agriculture to take livestock producers, and the trade associations that represent us, as partners on these decisions that impact our animals, our businesses, and Colorado’s food security in such a significant way.
No one cares about animal conditions and welfare as much as those of us that care for them day in and day out, sometimes 24 hours a day, as many of us are currently calving our cows. We have grave concerns about how the BAP will be authorized to impact our operations.
In the past, law enforcement has been able to assist the BAP with these issues, as well. There are several documented cases where an operator was contacted and the animals in their care were being neglected. In working with the State Veterinarian’s office and law enforcement, the problems were resolved without sensationalizing them and the animal needs were met.
Will we be able to trust that this will be the case going forward?
Janie VanWinkle is co-owner of VanWinkle Ranch in Mesa County and a past president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association.
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