CO Governor Angers Ranchers by Pushing Meatless Burgers

State's largest export is beef

Jared Polis / Getty Images
September 3, 2019

Farmers and ranchers are not happy with Colorado governor Jared Polis's push to explore plant-based meat alternatives.

The first-term Democrat has privately urged the state Department of Agriculture to explore how Colorado can produce meatless options, according to the Gazette. In a behind-the-scenes meeting, he even offered to buy agency researchers Burger King's new Impossible Whopper, which is made of soy and other meatless products, to demonstrate the potential of the plant-based meat trend.

Beef is the state's largest export and linchpin of its $40 billion agriculture industry. The initiative by Polis, a tech entrepreneur worth hundreds of millions of dollars, provoked condemnation from local farmers and ranchers.

"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," the Colorado Livestock Association said in a press release. "Next time the Department of Agriculture staff is [sic.] 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."

Polis, who eats meat but is married to a vegan man, said he does not intend to replace Colorado's cattle industry with plant-based alternatives, emphasizing that he wants the agriculture industry to consider new trends to avoid stagnation. Some experts dispute the feasibility of the initiative, telling the Denver Post that Colorado's geographic and weather conditions make it unsuitable for producing vegan alternatives to beef.

Don Brown, a longtime Colorado beef producer, farmer and agriculture commissioner in the Hickenlooper administration, agrees that farmers and ranchers are always looking for new opportunities to increase their profits.

But when it comes to growing the ingredients that make up the Impossible Burger, such as soybeans and coconut oil, Colorado would start at a deficit, Brown said.

Soybeans don’t grow well in Colorado, particularly in areas that don’t have irrigation and must rely on rainfall. About 75% of Colorado's farmland is considered dry and is not irrigated. And, he added: "I damn sure know we're short on coconut trees."

Two other ingredients, potatoes and sunflower oil, are likely Colorado’s best hopes. However, it's unclear whether the state has the sort of infrastructure needed to process and transport the products.

Colorado was home to more than 2.8 million cows in January.