Denver Voters to Decide on Packing Plant

Market to Market | Clip
Jun 7, 2024 | 7 min

Denver, known for its livestock heritage dating back to the Civil War, is now heading toward a voter-driven referendum that could shut down the city’s last packing plant.


Natalie Fulton, Pro-Animal Future: “Our main goal is to ban factory farming at the state level and in order to build momentum toward that, we’re trying to ban industrialized slaughterhouses in Denver….We’re a collective movement of voters who care about animals and we are trying to shift the agricultural system away from using animals and toward a more plant-based food system.”

Natalie Fulton is a member of Pro-Animal Future, a group which describes itself as a political movement to end what they call factory farming. They have collected enough signatures to place a measure on Denver’s November 5th ballot that, if approved by more than 50 percent of voters, would prohibit “the construction, maintenance or use of slaughterhouses” in the city as of January 2026.

The only Denver business that would fall under the ban is a lamb packing plant operated by Superior Farms, the largest domestic lamb processor in the nation. The employee-owned Denver plant, which Superior has operated for 40 years, processes about 300,000 lambs a year in the city’s Globeville neighborhood. Rick Stott is Superior Farms President and CEO. 

Rick Stott, president/CEO, Superior Farms: “This was an animal group that is very aggressive. Has been picketing our plant on a regular basis… On their website before they took this down, they said ‘Join our movement to end animal farming in Colorado.’ So their objective is not just to eliminate Superior Farms out of Denver but to eliminate animal production in the state of Colorado and probably beyond.”

Fulton didn’t dispute the statement.

Natalie Fulton, Pro-Animal Future: “We would love to target other counties and exports - and maybe that could be a ballot initiative in the future - but for right now we are starting at the local level in Denver to get the conversation started…. But we have a few cities that are in the works right now. Definitely Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, Houston, Ohio. We definitely want to go national with it and our main goal is to ban factory farming at the state level within ten years.”

Stott is concerned about the Denver plant’s 160 employee-owners if the referendum passes.

Rick Stott, president/CEO, Superior Farms: “Not only would they lose their jobs, but they would lose their retirement because they own the company…I mean fully appreciate people’s differing opinions. I mean I appreciate where they are coming from but I guess I appreciate more the 160 employees; their livelihood is dependent on this.’”

Officials with Pro-Animal Future did include specific language in the measure requiring the city of   Denver to prioritize workforce training and employment assistance for Superior Farms’ employees.

Natalie Fulton, Pro-Animal Future: “It wasn’t as if we were specifically targeting them. We are targeting all industrialized slaughterhouses…We want this all to be very gradual. We don’t think there are going to be any immediate drastic changes from our measures.”

Maureen “Mo” McDonough, a sheep and dairy producer whose farm is about 50 miles from Denver, worries that, if the ballot measure passes, there could be drastic changes in the region.

Maureen “Mo” McDonough, WiMo Farms, Berthoud, Colorado: “I don’t support it. I think that it’s very important, especially as we become more and more urbanized, that small farmers especially like me, and large farmers alike and ranchers, have access to conveniently located processors.”

McDonough says the referendum could lead to other communities banning local meat lockers.

There are only two large capacity plants in Colorado that process sheep, Superior Farms and Colorado Lamb Processors, located 90 miles away in Brush. The two facilities offer Colorado ranchers, who produce 360,000 lambs annually, and producers from many nearby states, a convenient and cost-effective option for marketing their lambs.

Rick Stott, president/CEO, Superior Farms: “We have the second plant in California but there’s no way the great producers of Iowa and North Dakota, South Dakota - we pull over 100,000 lambs out of that region of the country - are going to ship clear to California. It’s not going to happen. What would they do? ...I was speaking about this issue in South Dakota a few months ago and a young producer – he couldn’t be maybe low 30s, young family – came up to me and said ‘We’ve got to win this thing. My livelihood is contingent upon that Denver plant being there.’”

McDonough, whose grandfather was a sheep producer, says she used to be a vegetarian before getting some land and starting to raise lambs.

Maureen “Mo” McDonough, WiMo Farms, Berthoud, Colorado: “When I was young, I was idealistic I suppose like a lot of other teenagers …For 18 years, I was on that party bandwagon. As soon as I had land, I thought, ‘Gosh, I could raise animals the right way.’ And then I got more and more involved in the larger agricultural community and realized that all of the different types of farms do have a purpose.”

Fulton says Denver-based Pro-Animal Future respects farmers.

Natalie Fulton, Pro-Animal Future: “We’d like to see more opportunities for farmers to diversify their operations and become more sustainable and profitable. The plant-based food industry is expected to be worth $85 billion by 2030, and food producers are going to need key ingredients like mushrooms, peas, oats and greens.”

McDonough believes that raising livestock, particularly in semi-arid regions of the country, is much better for soil health than vegetable production.

Maureen “Mo” McDonough, WiMo Farms, Berthoud, Colorado: “I do think that it’s very easy for voters especially to get caught up … in the idea of, ‘Oh well, gosh, that sounds like a good idea’ without realizing the impact to those of us that are raising animals…And subsequently what that equates to to people in the grocery store is that their prices are going to continue to go up and up as well…Certainly as we get closer to the vote, I think that we are going to see a lot of different agricultural communities looking to Denver… I do think that it will bring some pretty big national attention to this.”

By Colleen Bradford Krantz,