LINCOLN (AP) — Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts ramped up his crusade for the meat industry on Wednesday by endorsing a new “beef passport” program to promote meat eating, a few weeks after he blasted Colorado’s governor for a resolution encouraging its residents to eat less.

Ricketts, a Republican, cast meat as essential to his state’s economy and the nation’s food security. He criticized “radical environmentalists” and Bill Gates for promoting alternatives, such as synthetic, lab-grown meat, and for arguing that the current global meat production system isn’t sustainable.

“If you do away with the beef industry, it’s going to be devastating to Nebraska,” Ricketts said at a downtown Lincoln steakhouse, where he issued his annual proclamation of May as “Beef Month.” “It would have a huge impact on our small towns and rural communities.”

Nebraska is one of the nation’s top beef-producing states, and much of the corn it produces is used for livestock feed.

Ricketts said meat is nutritionally dense and “part of a traditional, healthy diet.” He said three ounces of beef has more protein than three cups of quinoa.

“Who wants to eat three cups of quinoa anyway?” he said.

The Nebraska Beef Passport, managed by the Nebraska Beef Council, features 41 restaurants throughout the state that offer the meat on their menus. It’s modeled after the state-run Nebraska Passport Program, a popular yearly initiative where visitors travel to different businesses, museums, parks and other attractions to collect stamps that they can send in for prizes.

The beef program requires restaurant patrons to order a beef item off the menu to earn stamps, which they can submit to the Nebraska Beef Council for the chance to win prizes, including a high-end cooler full of meat.

“Farmers and ranchers are committed to producing high-quality protein in the most sustainable way possible,” said George Cooksley, chairman of the Nebraska Beef Council.

Nebraska ranks first in the nation for commercial cattle slaughter, second for beef exports and second for all cattle on feed. In 2019, beef was Nebraska’s No. 2 agricultural export behind soybeans. Nebraska has 22 million acres of rangeland and pastureland, about half of which are in the Sandhills.

“The beef community is the heart of Nebraska,” said William Rhea III, president of the Nebraska Cattlemen. “With a continued focus on conservation and care, Nebraska farmers and ranchers are laser focused on enriching the land and caring for their animals.”

To order a passport, see a list of participating restaurants or get information on program rules and prizes, go to www.goodlifegreatsteaks.org.

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