Colorado Ballot Initiatives About Veterinary Care

Shortage of Livestock Veterinarians in Colorado - Two Colorado Ballot Measures Could Make a Difference

Two ballot initiatives in Colorado are currently gathering signatures with the aim of being included on the November ballot. Both Ballot Initiative 144 and 145 are being proposed as solutions to the shortage of veterinary care available to animal owners in the state.

Livestock Production is Often Overlooked by the Media

An article in Colorado Politics provided information about the ballot initiatives and how they will impact pets. However, it overlooked a significant sector of animals and commerce in the state – livestock. Colorado Revised Statute 12-315-104 states: “(1) "Animal" means any animal other than human, and the term includes fowl, birds, amphibians, fish, and reptiles, wild or domestic, living or dead.” The language shows that the ballot initiatives will impact veterinary care for both pets and livestock.

FDA VCPR Guidance and Rural Veterinary Access

In 2023, the US Food and Drug Administration published the Guidance for Industry 263 that put new restrictions on the administration of antibiotics for livestock producers. The guidance states that livestock producers must establish a veterinary-client-patient relationship before certain medications are able to be administered to their animals. Specifically, it impacted the availability of medically important antibiotics that were previously available to livestock producers over the counter.

A December 2023 article in Farm Progress reported that this guidance has put “livestock producers in the unique predicament of navigating government regulation while facing the current realities of rural veterinarian availability”.

Veterinary Shortage

For many years, the veterinary industry has been warning about the shortage of veterinarians and that the shortage is even more critical when it comes to livestock veterinarians. A 2018 article by NPR reports that there has been a shortage of large animal veterinarians in rural areas since 2003. The article interviewed Mark Steeter, who at the time was the College of Veterinary Medicine dean at Colorado State University. He said, “Without vets, farmers and the nation’s food supply are more vulnerable to those disease outbreaks. It also could mean sick and infected animals will increasingly go untested.”

The article also referred to a 2017 study conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture which found, “187 rural areas, including eight Colorado counties that lack sufficient access to veterinarians”.

A 2022 article in Today’s Veterinary Business outlined a study conducted by Mars Veterinary Health which found that “Nearly 41,000 additional veterinarians will be needed to meet the need of companion animal health care by 2030.” Importantly, this number produced by Mars does not include the number of needed livestock veterinarians.

Unfortunately, the situation has not improved although veterinary industry groups and the USDA are seeking to find solutions. The USDA’s webpage “Veterinary Services Shortage Situations Map” provides detailed state-by-state information regarding shortages as well as opportunities for veterinarians to participate in a veterinary loan repayment program for their service in certain high-priority veterinary shortage situations. A link to an interactive map showing the shortages in the state of Colorado for 2024 can be found below.

Colorado Ballot Initiative 144

Initiative 144 would allow veterinarians to establish a veterinary-client-patient-relationship (VCPR) through telemedicine instead of requiring an in-person physical examination. Proponents argue that the state of Colorado already set a precedent for this during the COVID-19 lockdowns without an increase in complaints. They also highlight the benefit of providing care to animals located in areas where veterinary services are more than one hour away. Additionally, Initiative 144 stipulates that only state-licensed veterinarians can prescribe medications and outlines the authority of the state veterinary board to create telehealth rules.

Colorado Ballot Initiative 145

Initiative 145 proposes the creation of a new job title, similar to a physician's assistant or nurse practitioner, for individuals who have completed a Master's degree in veterinary clinical care. This new title, "veterinary professional associate," would be recognized by the state of Colorado and would involve more training and responsibilities compared to veterinary technicians. However, opponents of Ballot Initiative 145 have raised several concerns, including issues related to licensure, authorization for treatment and prescriptions, and professional liability insurance coverage.

The AVMA Has Concerns About Virtual Veterinarian Client Patient Relationships and Midlevel Veterinary Positions

A September 2023 article in Today’s Veterinary Business by American Veterinary Medical Association President Rena Carlson, DVM, outlines some of the broader concerns regarding Ballot Initiatives like 144 and 145. Dr. Carlson’s article focuses mostly on the state of veterinary care regarding companion animals; however, the concerns listed also apply to livestock production. Some of the concerns Dr. Carlson listed are as follows:

Mid-Level Positions

· Issues with curriculum, standards, and accreditation.

· Restrictions under federal law.

Virtual Veterinary Client-Patient Relationship

· Concern about the motives of telemedicine companies that would be utilized to help deliver online care.

· Virtual visits simply cannot replace an in-person physical exam raising concerns that appropriate care and treatment could be delayed.

Navigating Solutions

At AGPROfessionals, we recognize that the health and well-being of animals are crucial to our clients and the success of their businesses. We are committed to staying informed about the developments regarding the shortage of veterinary care for livestock producers.


Tri-State Public Radio (NPR) article and podcast about veterinary shortage HERE

Farm Progress article about veterinary shortage HERE

Farm Progress article about restrictions for livestock producers HERE

Information about antibiotic guidelines from the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) HERE

Article in Veterinary Business News about workforce shortage HERE

United States Food and Drug Administration (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) information about rural veterinary shortages and loan repayment programs HERE

Text for Colorado Ballot Initiative 144 HERE

Colorado Politics article about Ballot Initiative 144 and 145 HERE

Casetex - Colorado codes regarding veterinary care HERE