Editor’s Note: GMC college President Paul Fonteyn as not taking any leadership at this college. He has deflected all the criticism to the 700 students. He has the authority to act but won’t. POS of the year. Bill and Lou timeline follows.
Resources: VTDigger, VT Today, Facebook, NY Times, VINE Sanctuary, Boston Globe, Green Mountain College, USA Today, Compassion Over Killing, Green Mt Animal Defenders
POULTNEY, VT — For Green Mountain College’s longtime oxen team, Bill and Lou, a trip to the slaughterhouse has been postponed.
The two draft animals have been a daily sight at the college’s organic Cerridwen Farm for the past decade, plowing and tilling the fields and hauling heavy loads of compost. After Lou injured his leg this summer, however, the animal was deemed unable to work, and the team, trained to work together for many years, had to be retired.
Animal slaughter is rarely a comfortable topic of discussion, but it was one option that school administrators presented students at a community forum that convened this fall to decide what to do with the two farm animals. The other option was to send the animals to sanctuary, but the majority of students supported the slaughter and processing option.
It was a decision that made sense given the farm’s ethos, said Philip Ackerman-Leist, farm director and professor of environmental studies. He said as students were drawing up a farm plan 10 years ago, it was vegetarians and vegans who were some of the most vocal supporters of establishing a sustainable animal agriculture system at the college. The hope, he said, was that students who chose to eat meat could gain an understanding of the life cycle and care of the animals they were eating. “The college farm is part of the college food system,” said Ackerman-Leist. “It was intended that way from the very beginning, and that’s the path that we in the community have stuck to.”
Just as soon as the college announced its plans for Bill and Lou in early October, however, a number of groups began to express their concern for the decision. Green Mountain Animal Defenders, a Burlington-based organization, worked with an animal sanctuary in Springfield called Veganism is the New Evolution, or VINE, to offer to take the retired oxen off of the college’s hands at no cost.
VINE, which has been vocal in advocating for the animals’ lives, has posted several open letters on their blog, arguing that hamburger meat that will serve the college dining halls for just a few months is not a worthy trade-off for the lives of the two oxen. “These two members of the Green Mountain College community have gracefully and faithfully served and educated so many, and they deserve to be honored by a retirement befitting their years of dedicated service,” VINE representatives write.
Green Mountain Animal Defenders launched an online petition, which at the end of last week had 47,300 signatures from across the nation and world. The story
has been picked up by the New York Times, the Boston Globe and the Huffington Post.
Ackerman-Leist said groups from as far away as Australia and New Zealand have weighed in on the subject, bombarding college faculty and spokespeople with emails and phone calls, some supportive but many opposing the college’s decision. In one day recently, he said he received more than 1,000 emails about Bill and Lou.
Ultimately, this cyber outcry is what led to the college’s decision to cancel its appointment at the slaughterhouse, which Ackerman-Leist said is a small facility the college has used in the past that has animal welfare approval.
College administrators discovered recently that a list had been posted online of all of the slaughter facilities near to the college — mostly very small, family-owned businesses — and all of those facilities had received a high volume of calls and emails requesting that they refuse to slaughter Bill and Lou. So as not to cause trouble for any local slaughter business, the college cancelled its appointment until it could reschedule for a later date.
Meanwhile, following the widespread publicity of the topic, multiple groups have offered to pay the college for the two animals. Last Thursday, VINE posted a memo to its website stating that it had secured a home for Bill and Lou at Farm Sanctuary, a national organization with shelters in California and New York. “Along with tens of thousands of people here in Vermont and around the world, we continue to implore Green Mountain College to abide by the agricultural tradition of kindly retiring elderly or disabled work animals,” read the memo.
Ackerman-Leist said sanctuary was initially on the table for Bill and Lou, but that a main goal of the farm is to offer students a holistic view of animal agriculture from birth to death. “Part of this is taking responsibility for an animal from beginning to end. It’s not about casting away that decision,” he said.
Steve Fesmire, a philosophy and environmental studies professor at the college, writes in a not-yet-published article that though he is a vegetarian and drawn to the idea of a living retirement for the oxen, he stands with the college’s democratic decision to slaughter the animals as part of the farm’s commitment to sustainable meat production. “(This) is light years away from the inhumane treatment of animals (and humans) that now dominates global agriculture,” writes Fesmire.
VINE cofounder Pattrice Jones questioned the decision-making process in an open letter to GMC parents, arguing that many of the students at the college are still too young to fully grasp the consequences and the results of their decision to send Bill and Lou to slaughter.
What’s more, she added, “students did not anticipate that likely outcome … because they were provided with biased ‘information’ in the deliberation process.”
Fesmire and Ackerman-Leist detailed student trips to slaughterhouses and ongoing campus-wide and classroom-based discussions of life and death on the farm. The ethical dilemmas of animal agriculture, said Ackerman-Leist, will be present for as long as animal agriculture exists.
Ackerman-Leist said this incident has reaffirmed the college’s goals of teaching sustainable animal agriculture and opening up discussion to all of the ethical questions that this entails. “We’re standing our ground, in part, because this is no longer just about Bill and Lou, no longer about Green Mountain College,” he said. “It’s about the ability of Vermont to rebuild its community food systems.”
While discussion over the fate of the two animals rages on, the cycle continues at Green Mountain College: a new team of oxen, Speck and Spook, can be found working the fields at Cerridwen Farm.
TIMELINE FOR BILL AND LOU
About 1999 Bill and Lou arrive as calves, they became more than draft animals for the college
Early Oct 2012 Lou has a flare up of an old injury from the summer and cannot work- Bill won’t work without him
Oct 1 2012 GMC Journal announces Oct 31st plans to slaughter working oxen of 10 yrs. Bill and Lou, and the meat will be served to the students who love them. Read it…
Oct 4 2012 GMC holds a brain washing session of 80 student who were said to all agree to slaughtering Bill and Lou
Oct 9 2012 VINE posts Action Alert to save Bill and Lou from the students and faculty at Green Mountain College. Read it…
About Oct 10 2012 Green Mountain Animal Defenders start petition at Care2 Read it…
About Oct 10 2012 The world ignites with compassion through social media to try to save Bill and Lou
Oct 13 2012 VINE posts “Shades of Green Bill and Lou Update” which reports that Lou is receiving little pain meds since he is scheduled for slaughter, and, Lou would get immediate care and meds at VINE.
Oct 15 2012 VINE sends “Memo to Green Mountain College Board of Trustees” which reports that posted at GMC website is the refusal to send Bill and Lou to sanctuary, instead insisting on slaughter. Read it…
Oct 16 2012 The Huffington Post publishes its first of several articles on the cruelty of GMC’s decision and calling them “false environmentalists.” Read it…
Oct 17 2012 VINE posts “A Few Fun Fact About Vine” that coincidentally talks about all their programs to help large, aging bovines and mentions that Farm Sanctuary places animals at VINE.
Oct 19 2012 VINE posts “An Open Letter to the Students of Green Mountain College” introducing vet tech Cheryl Wylie who invites the media to ask about how she grew up on a beef farm and is now a loving cow care giver understanding herd needs and separation anxiety. Also reported, GMC refused to have Cheryl at the day’s meeting and closed the meeting to the public after that. Read it…
Oct 26 2012 GMC students stand strong at protest to save Bill and Lou, while verbally attacked by other students agreeing with the slaughter. Freshman Emerald Hardiman: “They’re going to taste good!”
Oct 28 2012 The NY Times picks up Bill and Lou’s story, and the protests at GMC. Read it…
OCT 31 2012 VINE makes public its Oct 12 “ Letter to the President of Green Mountain College” stating the students and parents need to read it to see how GMC has ignored VINE with no responses. Read it…
OCT 31 2012 GMC publishes official statement that Bill and Lou won’t be slaughtered on Oct 31 because “… regional slaughterhouses have been inundated with hostile and threatening emails and phone calls from extremist groups bent on interfering with the processing.” Read it…
Nov 1 2012 VINE posts a suck up letter to GMC (kudos!) for the sake of bill and Lou, since students have spent weeks whining about how “VINE puts them down so much.”
Nov 1 2012 USA Today picks up Bill and Lou’s story. Read it...
Nov 4 2012 VTDigger publishes Bill and Lou article that has many passionate commenters. Read it...
Nov 10 2012 GMC kills ox Lou saying euthanazia was needed because of his ankle, even though VINE said they would help Lou.
Patrice Jones of VINE Sanctuary: “We know that Lou was alive and well at 2 or 3 in the afternoon of what would be his last day. Given that data, the late-night timing of the so-called “euthanasia,” and the absence of his body on campus, I have grave concerns about the manner of his death. While VINE’s official statement will be forthcoming, I urge people to join me in demanding that the college produce a statement from a veterinarian, attesting that he or she recommended and implemented euthanasia for humane reasons and by humane methods. Otherwise, the college must explain to the students and neighbors of the college who loved Lou exactly why and how he died.”
TAKE ACTION, GET MAD FOR BILL AND LOU !
PRESIDENT: Paul J. Fonteyn
PROVOST & VP FOR ACADEMIC AFFAIRS: Bill Throop
FARM MANAGER: Kenneth Mulder
DIRECTOR OF FARM AND FOOD PROJECT: Philip Ackerman-Leist
firstname.lastname@example.org 802-287-2942 Fax: 802-287-8080
ASSOC. PROF OF PHILOSOPHY: STEVEN FESMIRE