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Slaughterhouse ban on Denver ballot hits 70-year-old business

The Colorado Livestock Association is opposing a Denver ballot measure that would ban slaughterhouses within city limits, saying the bill affects one company that employs more than 150 people who have worked in the industry for decades.

If passed, the bill would require the largest lamb packing plant in the U.S. to close by Jan. 1, 2026. The employee-owned Superior Farms slaughterhouse, located near the National Western Stock Show complex, processes about 300,000 animals a year, shipping millions of pounds of packaged meat across the U.S. and generating an estimated $861 million in current economic activity for Colorado’s second-largest industry, according to a Colorado State University report.

It is Superior’s largest plant in Dixon, Calif. It and Colorado Lamb Processors, a family-owned processing plant in Brush, alone can pack more than 100,000 sheep per year in Colorado. Colorado now has the third-largest number of sheep and lambs in the U.S. and ranks second in the nation, behind California, in lambs ready for slaughter. The combined capacity of Colorado’s 21 USDA-inspected plants is 400,000 sheep per year. Superior’s plant in Denver accounts for 15% to 20% of U.S. lamb processing capacity.

The group behind the initiative, Pro-Animal Future, argues that slaughterhouses are “inhumane to workers, animals, and the surrounding communities they pollute” and that the proposed law “will increase public awareness of animal welfare, strengthen the city’s stance against animal cruelty, and therefore contribute to a more humane environment in Denver.”

The Humane League, a Pro-Animal Future affiliate, says animals killed in slaughterhouses are “stunned” by electrocuting, gassing or shooting a metal rod through the skull, then held upside down or chained while their throats are slit.” Citing a 2013 study conducted over five days in Sweden, the group says only 84% of cattle are properly stunned before slaughter.

Zach Riley, CEO of the Colorado Livestock Association, said the USDA “certainly will not allow multiple failed stunning attempts” at the Superior slaughterhouse or others. Jessica Lemmel, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Livestock Association, said the fact that Superior is inspected by the USDA “validates that this is a facility that needs to continue to process lambs for the industry, not smaller processing plants that are not inspected by the USDA.”

The measure was approved on the November municipal ballot this spring, as was a second measure by Pro-Animal Future that seeks to ban the production and sale of fur products, including taxidermy, in Denver as of July 1, 2025.

What would happen if this went through?

In June, the Regional Economic Development Institute at Colorado State University released a report outlining the far-reaching economic impact of the ban if it is passed in November.

The report said total annual animal processing production in Denver County now exceeds $382 million, supports nearly 600 jobs and generates nearly $45 million in employee compensation.

However, closing the Superior plant would likely “significantly impact the U.S. lamb supply chain and severely strain existing plants, thereby reducing the amount of Colorado lamb available for sale in Colorado and the rest of the United States,” the report said.

In a “worst-case” scenario, all economic activity associated with Superior Farms leaves the state, resulting in a loss of $861 million in economic activity and 2,787 jobs “after taking into account multiplier effects.”

If half of the economic activity moves to an existing facility outside Denver, $430 million and 1,394 jobs would be lost after multiplier effects are factored in. And the report says that even if 80% of Denver’s lost economic activity is retained elsewhere in Colorado, the state would still lose 697 jobs and more than $215 million in economic activity.

Rick Stott, CEO of Superior Farms, told Meat + Poultry magazine that he believes Pro-Animal Future’s goal with the ban is to “eliminate animal agriculture in the state of Colorado.”

Riley agreed, adding that the last five or six years in Colorado “have been filled with a litany of anti-farmer sentiment.”

Riley thinks of MeatOut Day, when Gov. Jared Polis encouraged Coloradans to collectively quit eating animal products on March 20, 2021. “It was like, why? What’s the necessity? Why are (producers) under fire?”

A Pro-Animal Future flyer in Denver’s Highlands neighborhood on July 9, 2024. The group successfully lobbied for an initiative to ban slaughterhouses in Denver County on the November ballot. (Sandra Fish for The Colorado Sun)

That same year, a bill that would have made basic veterinary procedures, including artificial insemination, acts of animal cruelty failed to make it to a statewide ballot.

The CSU report says that “economic spillovers will have an impact on the entire regional economy, due to the transportation of goods and services to and from Denver locations.” It adds that “the slaughter and meat processing sector in Denver County is intertwined with other value-added food businesses that rely on the slaughter and meat processing sector as a source of inputs.”

The regulation “contradicts demonstrated consumer preferences and choices,” the report continues. The ban “will reduce the resilience of the meat supply chain,” increasing costs for small and medium-sized livestock producers “who are unlikely to find alternatives,” the report says. And the report’s authors conclude that the closure of Superior Farms will make it harder for new startups in the growing local food industry “because they will not have access to nearby retail markets in Denver, and investment capital may be limited or at higher costs.”

Pro-Animal Future stand

Pro-Animal Future’s website says that “banning the cruel practice in Denver will not immediately destroy the industry,” but closing Superior Farms “would be a major disruption to the company and the industry that profits from harm to animals, workers, and the environment.”

Olivia Hammond, head of communications for Pro-Animal Future, added: “The CSU report confirms that its headline figures are a ‘worst-case scenario’ rather than the most likely scenario.” She added that some experts the group consulted “had difficulty understanding the unclear modelling used to derive such significant figures from the closure of just one plant, while noting that the findings rule out any potential benefits from a ban.”

The proposed measure includes a provision directing the city of Denver to “prioritize all affected workers for employment assistance programs, including those funded by the Climate Defense Fund.”

Pro-Animal Future’s website also suggests that if Superior Farms closes and its operating facilities are demolished, “any developer who buys (the land) would be required to develop it in accordance with the Denver Blueprint, the city’s long-term plan, which calls for the 80216 area where the slaughterhouse is located to become a ‘community hub’ by 2040.”

As for Riley, the future of one of Colorado’s leading agricultural enterprises shouldn’t be left to a vote, “but that’s a playbook for special interests,” he said. “They can’t get their way because the elected officials recognize the importance of the industry, so let’s do it in a disinformation-type of voting situation where people vote on emotion.”

Hammond said Pro-Animal Future believes “Denver voters recognize the need for a more humane, sustainable food system.”