DENVER — A proposed citizen-initiated Denver ordinance to ban any facility where livestock animals are killed to produce food could cost hundreds of workers their jobs as well as create a larger ripple effect into the state’s economy if it successfully makes it onto the ballot and passes.
It would further offer those who lose their jobs as a result priority status in city-run “employment assistance” programs.
The proposal, titled “Prohibition of Slaughterhouses” is currently in the signature gathering phase and would prohibit “the construction, maintenance, or use of” any meat processing facilities in Denver beginning January 1, 2026, as well as “require the city to prioritize residents who employment is affected by the ordinance in workforce training or employment assistance programs.”
The legislative intent of the proponents includes seeking an increase in plant-based protein sources, as well as pushing the claim that livestock is a major contributor to climate change, though no explanation is provided as to how pushing existing meat processing outside of Denver city limits would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If enough signatures are gathered it would appear on the April 2024 municipal election ballot.
Processing facilities are “nuisances upon the neighborhoods in which they operate, due to the foul odors which they produce, their unsightly industrial facades, and the disagreeable nature of their operations,” the ordinance reads in part, claiming employment in processing facilities is associated with “mental illness and addiction” due to “unique psychological harms” experienced by workers.
The ordinance targets any facility that processes meat defined as “livestock” under Colorado law, including beef, lamb, poultry, pig, etc.
Hitting a hometown business
Rep. Richard Holtorf, who represents northern and eastern Colorado, but is also a cattle rancher who is familiar with the industry, said this is about much more than activists pushing an agenda, he said the livestock industry is among the top two economic industries in Colorado, and successful passage of this ordinance will have a profound effect on the broader Colorado economy.
“It’s a huge economic impact that will equal hundreds of millions of dollars,” Holtorf said “It will restrict market opportunity for the sale of livestock. It’s a $14 billion industry.”
Among the businesses that will be directly impacted by the passage of the measure is Superior Farms, located on Clarkson Street. It has been processing lamb in Denver since the 1950s.
Gary Pfeiffer, Executive Vice President for sales and marketing for the company, said Superior Farms is still trying to wade through the measure and its impact on its business. Management at the 70-year-old Denver staple only learned about the ballot measure a little more than a week ago.
“We are still gathering information on this. It just snuck up on us,” Pfeiffer said. “We have only received basic information. The fact it is this far along without any information on it is interesting. It will obviously impact us directly. Most of our employees live in the city. We are an employee-owned company. This is pretty distracting.”
Superior Farms is one of the largest lamb processing facilities in the United States, employing 170 people at its Denver plant. It originated in Colorado and expanded to California several decades ago. They not only ship their product out of state, but to most every grocery store and restaurant in Colorado that sells lamb.
“Restaurants, supermarkets, in Colorado and Denver, if you see Colorado lamb on the menu, it probably comes through us,” Pfeiffer said. “We support all the ranchers in Colorado and the Rocky Mountains. We are one of the primary lamb producers in the country, so we support that entire industry. Thousands of small farms are dependent on us to process lamb for them.”
The company has also always done its part in the role of sustainability and to be a good community steward, Pfeiffer said.
According to its website, since 1964, Superior Farms has equipped its facilities with some of the best technology available, including solar panels and wind turbines that power more than 95 percent of the California plant’s total energy use.
In Colorado, the company works closely with the Colorado State University Spur program to sponsor youth events and urban outreach efforts. And they contribute more than 10,000 pounds of food yearly to local charities.
Additionally, they have a full-time, USDA employee on site every day and the facilities as well as employee training was done in collaboration with Temple Grandin, a well-known animal behaviorist and CSU professor who has spent her career helping processing plants design their facilities for humane treatment of animals prior to processing.
Full impact still an unknown
It is unknown how many other smaller processing facilities are still within the city limits of Denver, but Holtorf said this will significantly impact them, as well as the National Western Stock Show, where the trading of beef has historically taken place in the stock yards of Denver.
“In the downtown area just north of the stock show complex there are several facilities that process and package meat products.” Holtorf said. “It’s a longstanding history, the trading of beef historically at the stock show yard. It’s an industry that has its legacy in the north Denver area.”
Paul Andrews, CEO of the National Western Stock Show was out of town and unavailable for comment at press time.
Under Denver election rules, to place a citizen-led initiative on the ballot, the draft of the proposed ordinance must first go to the executive director of the city council and the city attorney for review. It then goes to a review and comment hearing, which is public, but unless you are aware of the issue, have signed up for notifications of pending reviews, or you frequent the election department’s website regularly, there is no simple notification process to the vast majority of the public.
The processing facility ban ordinance was submitted on April 21 and approved for petition circulation on May 11. Proponents have until November 7 to collect about 26,000 valid signatures from registered Denver voters. Proponents of the measure include Denver residents Catherine Klein, Ethan Kayser, Lily Lu-Lerner, Louis Brown and Hana Low.
According to the Denver Elections department, proponents have filed an intent to use paid circulators and will have to file financial updates throughout the process, which will be made available on the election department’s website. Complete Colorado will continue to track the progress.
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