Draft Animal Power – Draft animals and sustainable land stewardship › Forums › Community of Interest › Community › Request for Common Cause from Green Mountain College
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- November 13, 2012 at 11:01 am #44231
I received this yesterday from Ken Mulder and Philip Ackerman-Leist. Please share widely, and take action to support the efforts of Green Mountain College to rebuff animal rights activism that threatens our ability to decide how we take care of our animals, and how we feed ourselves.
I have had to post this in two sections because the settings don’t allow the entire article in one post……
November 11, 2012
Dear Colleague in Food and Agriculture,
I am writing to request both your attention to and support in an issue that impacts farms of all sizes, the ability of livestock-based businesses and educational farms to function without the threat of harassment or harm from outside special interests, and the possibility for communities to determine the future of their regional food systems.
As you may have heard or read, the Green Mountain College community followed a decade-long tradition of discussing the fate of livestock on the college’s Cerridwen Farm before deciding to send our two longstanding oxen to slaughter. Bill and Lou have been central elements of the college farm since their arrival ten years ago, but Lou injured his leg this past summer and is no longer able to work or even to walk any significant distance without experiencing obvious pain. Therefore, in an open community forum this fall, about eighty students decided to send the much admired pair to slaughter and processing, with the meat to be used in the college dining hall, as we have done with sheep, poultry, swine, and cattle in the past.
However, an extremist animal rights organization, VINE (Veganism is the Next Evolution) Sanctuary, turned our community-based decision into an international advocacy and fundraising effort. VINE recently set up its new sanctuary and education/advocacy center in Springfield, Vermont in order to take on everything from backyard poultry to small-scale livestock production to the iconic Vermont dairy industry. They allow for no distinction between any form of livestock agriculture. As a case in point, one of the founders of VINE states the following:
“Another issue we face is that Vermont is a big ‘happy meat’ place. The happy meat people are convinced the animals are treated well. It is just a myth, and regardless, any farmed animal on a factory farm or a ‘happy meat’ farm, can’t get away from ending up dead.”
Another VINE blog makes the point even more explicit:
“Despite the blather about respecting the bedrock of one of Vermont’s primary industries, and despite the inane lies pitched in almost hysterical fashion by ‘happy meat and milk’ farmers, cows are nothing more than potential money-making machines to people. That’s what they’re there for, after all.”
The Green Mountain College oxen case seemed to have been the perfect target for VINE’s efforts, quickly supported by Farm Sanctuary and PETA. Why focus on our college farm and not a “factory farm” or some other farm with questionable livestock management practices? Perhaps we find ourselves in this situation because the college has long been transparent about our community-based discussions regarding the fate of the livestock on our college farm—it is a vital part of our educational program here. It could also be that we have been targeted because we are not only teaching and advocating for sustainable livestock farming, but some of our graduates are seeding the local landscape with these kinds of farms.
Unfortunately, this issue is not just about the fate of Bill and Lou or the intense local and international pressures faced by a small but diverse college community that opted for transparency, truth, and accountability in its own food system. If the extremist elements in this activist agenda succeed in forcing our college to choose a course not of our own making in this issue, then they will have the power and the confidence to do it again—perhaps next time to a smaller and less resourceful community or farm or even to a bigger institution or initiative. Such an outcome would be inconvenient to some and perhaps tragic to others. And it flies directly in the face of Vermont’s innovative efforts to develop community-based food systems, envisioned on a grand and courageous scale through our nationally-acclaimed Farm to Plate Initiative, a strategic ten-year plan to build the vision of interlinked local and sustainable food systems that can build thriving communities even in the most rural reaches of our state.
Imagine the pressures our college has faced in recent weeks and consider how other communities placed under such pressure might fare:
- Numerous petition drives, with tens of thousands of signees from all over the world—people who know nothing of Bill and Lou’s conditions, much less the accountability and transparency we have built into our college food system
- Action alerts that have generated email assaults (at least one staff person received almost 1000 emails in a single day) and switchboard and voicemail overloads of our campus phone system
- One cyber-attack generated 3.9 million emails filtered in a period of several days—all from a single domain
- Harassment and threats of physical violence to students, faculty, staff, and administrators
- Constant surveillance of our college farm by stealthy intrusions, video cameras, and Facebook reports of our daily activities
- Driving a livestock trailer to the edge of campus and barging into our administrative offices demanding that Bill and Lou be turned over
- Dishonest and highly abusive postings on the college’s social media sites, requiring around-the-clock monitoring and editing
- Attempts at widespread defamation of character of faculty, staff, and administrators through letters, emails, websites, and social media channels
- Threats of continued negative publicity campaigns unless we turned Bill and Lou over to VINE Sanctuary
- Online discussion of whether to give Bill and Lou medications that would render their meat unsafe and inedible
- Slaughterhouses throughout Vermont and New York were threatened with protests, harassment, and potential violence if they agreed to work with the college, ultimately eliminating virtually all such possibilities for us, including our scheduled date at a local Animal Welfare Approved facility
Throughout it all, we have attempted to avoid a polarization among parties. After all, our student body is comprised of approximately 70% meat-eaters and 30% vegetarians and vegans. One of my colleagues in helping our students to think critically about these livestock decisions is Dr. Steven Fesmire, a philosopher and a vegetarian. For ten years, he and I have tried to model open and civil discourse about dietary choices and related animal issues through forums, joint classes, and guest lectures. We are unaccustomed to diatribe replacing dialogue, and our students tend to be open to a diversity of ideas and respectful of differences in opinion. Our community finds it odd that certain extremists have opted to try and make us out as villains when one of our stated goals is to become the first college or university in the United States with a major food service provider to eliminate all animal products that are not humanely raised and slaughtered.
Continued…..November 13, 2012 at 11:01 am #75755
Our college honors different dietary choices and encourages a diversity of philosophical perspectives related to agriculture and animal ethics. Were that not the case, we would not have a higher than average population of students who are vegetarians and vegans. We teach animal rights perspectives in our classes, as we believe that these philosophical ideas can help to illuminate the path toward more humane and sustainable livestock agriculture. The challenge we are now facing is not one of a philosophical perspective that we find inappropriate but rather of an extreme activist agenda that is divisive and destructive. The end goal is the abolition of livestock agriculture, whereas our college is invested in the transformation of livestock agriculture.
What happens next in this situation may have ramifications far beyond our campus community. If VINE, Farm Sanctuary, and PETA succeed in harassing and threatening not only us but also our regional livestock businesses to the point at which we succumb to their abolitionist desires, then they will march forward with their activist agenda and wreak havoc not only on the rebuilding of community-based food systems but also on the longstanding efforts in our region to create increasingly humane and ecologically appropriate livestock production and processing.
It is time for more organizations and individuals to come forward to denounce the intrusive and unethical bullying orchestrated by these organizations. Their tactics do not promote discourse, diversity, or democracy. Ultimately, they impede animal welfare reform by putting backyard poultry on the same level as a poorly managed “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation” (CAFO). You may or may not agree with our community’s decisions regarding Bill and Lou. We recognize that people can come to different conclusions in what is the best alternative for each of these animals, and these discussions can be civil and frank. Regardless of your opinion in this particular matter, it is important to recognize that the extreme bullying tactics employed by these groups need to be countered with the courage, reason, and civility of people and organizations that believe in the transformation of livestock agriculture, not its abolition.
During the early morning hours of November 11th, under the cover of darkness and with complex security plans in place, we had to euthanize Lou and bury him in an undisclosed location, as outlined in a statement to our community by President Paul Fonteyn. It was a difficult and complex decision. President Fonteyn offered these words regarding Bill: “Bill will not be sent to a sanctuary but will stay on Cerridwen Farm and will be cared for in a manner that follows sustainable, humane livestock practices, as is the case with all of our animals. We take responsibility for our animals on the farm–it is an obligation we will not ask others to bear.”
Please make your voice heard on this issue, whether it be through letters to the editor, calls and emails to your elected officials, or by appropriate direct action through your organization. Green Mountain College has decided to stand up against the bullying directed at us while also standing up for farmers, businesses, educational farms, local food systems, and burgeoning farm-to-institution programs—in Vermont and elsewhere in the country. It is our ardent hope that reason and civility will prevail and perhaps save some other farm or organization from the onslaught that our college has opted to engage, oppose, and defeat.
Director of the GMC Farm & Food Project
Director of the Masters in Sustainable Food Systems (MSFS)
Associate Professor of Environmental Studies
The links below will provide you with some insight on this issue:
November 13, 2012 at 1:44 pm #75773Andy CarsonModerator
- http://www.cbc.ca/asithappens/episode/2012/10/24/the-wednesday-edition-50/ (Part 1)
@Carl Russell 37548 wrote:
Written by Philip Ackerman-Leist:
“It is time for more organizations and individuals to come forward to denounce the intrusive and unethical bullying orchestrated by these organizations.”
I couldn’t agree more. I believe it is critical and important that everyone voices be heard. I am still amazed that these seemingly fringe organizations had the power to accomplish what they did in this case. Proof, in my mind, that they are a force to take seriously. I can see the argument that animal ethics might be best taught one-on-one face-to-face between mentors/parents and students/children. This is the way I learned. Still, in the world today there are far too many people who are incredibly divorced from where thier food (esp thier meat) comes from for this model to be effective for a large enough number of people to matter. So many people will never need or meet a animal related mentor and their parents will never slaughter an animal for dinner. Unless organizations like ours speak up, the vast majority of the US will only ever hear the “PETA side” of the argument. I think by remaining publically silent, we are doing ourselves a big disservice. There are just so so many examples of seemingly “fringe” organizations adamantly protesting for an initially unpopular or “fringe” cause and, eventually, changing the collective mind of the nation/world when not faced with rational and public opposition.November 13, 2012 at 2:35 pm #75759Mark CowdreyParticipant
I support DAPNet taking a public stand repudiating these outside extremists to support the heavy lifting GMC has already done, and is likely to be forced to continue.
MarkNovember 13, 2012 at 2:48 pm #75756
@Mark Cowdrey 37550 wrote:
I support DAPNet taking a public stand repudiating these outside extremists to support the heavy lifting GMC has already done, and is likely to be forced to continue.
I’m sure that a position statement/op-ed/public letter of support from DAPNet BOD to GMC would be very much appreciated, and valuable…November 13, 2012 at 6:55 pm #75769
I agree, but it needs to happen fast. The shelf life for these things is very short, hours is probably the best measure. Beyond that, NYT or other major news outlets will forget about it and be on to the next hot topic.November 13, 2012 at 9:05 pm #75762near horseParticipant
I agree with an immediate and forceful response. If you can believe it VINE : 1) has already have posted Philip’s letter to their blog site (although they edited out the comments regarding VINE) 2) doesn’t believe that Lou was euthanized but rather killed and sneaked out to a local butcher shop 3) speculates that the remaining ox, Bill, will be intentionally isolated and forced into a state of depression so that GMC can use his condition as reason to kill him too 4) blames GMC for their own negative publicity by not being willing to find “common ground” with VINE.
These people are nuts. Foolishly they decided to attack one of the few places doing things right.November 13, 2012 at 10:32 pm #75776AnonymousInactive
I know Ken and these oxen and I also know the Vet that donated them to the college as calves, I was surprised one night over dinner that there were any issues with beefing these two. The Veterinarian friend of mine that donated these calves is one of my bovine mentors and he had told me a while ago that if I train a pair of steers then I should plan on eating them right from the begining, but he was also a bit attached to bill and lou and thought that they shouldn’t be beefed. I reminded him of what he had taught me. I support Ken and I can sympathise with his hard work being tested at a university. He respects his animals from birth to the dinner table
JaredNovember 14, 2012 at 12:26 pm #75757
While I maintain that the aggressive bullying tactics used by protesters in this case are inexcusable, when we are crafting our personal or group responses let’s not focus on criticism of the content of their character, rather focus on criticism of the content of their arguments.
If we focus on their behavior then we allow them a free step in the public arena, to change their behavior then bring the arguments back to the table, having benefited from a huge amount of media attention.
I will share my opinion piece when I finish it……. I plan to submit it to statewide and regional newspapers. I can also share links to editorial pages for those when I get back to the file where I keep them……
CarlNovember 14, 2012 at 1:42 pm #75761Donn HewesKeymaster
Hi Carl, I think your point about the focus on their arguments is well said. I look forward to reading your letter. The DAP NET BOD did send a letter of support / Letter to the editor to the Green Mountain College today. I will attach a copy here. November 13, 2012
DAP Net – Draft Animal Powered Network is an organization that promotes the use of working animals, primarily horses, mules and oxen, to create more sustainable farming, forestry, and communities. As such, we applaud the efforts of the Green Mountain College to publicly discuss the end of life decisions for working oxen that have lived and worked on their farm.
This is an opportunity for many to learn about the reality of raising and caring for livestock. It also allows the community to discuss the role of livestock in a healthy ecosystem; how healthy milk, eggs and vegetables are supported by livestock on the farm. These discussions can and should include how and when an animal is killed and for what purpose.
In order for these discussions to take place, Green Mountain College needs to feel secure that their community supports their rights and control of their own livestock. When outside groups such as VINE (Vegan is the Next Evolution) and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) bring boycotts and threats, mass emails and picket lines to this discussion; they do us all a disservice. They have attempted to end a discussion and silence those that must care for these animals and are ultimately responsible for them. They have disrupted a civil discourse that many in the Green Mountain community and beyond would have benefited from.
Green Mountain College, DAP Net, and thousands of small farms all across this country take great responsibility for the ethical treatment of animals. We will continue to reach out to each other to strengthen our communities, build networks, and share what we learn.
Donn Hewes – Farmer
Vice President, DAP NetNovember 14, 2012 at 2:15 pm #75758
I have received a private message shaming me for being a “soulless, and evil human”………. ???
Everyone should be prepared for these types of attacks and accusations….. I will not reply…
CarlNovember 14, 2012 at 2:37 pm #75770
@Carl Russell 37577 wrote:
While I maintain that the aggressive bullying tactics used by protesters in this case are inexcusable, when we are crafting our personal or group responses let’s not focus on criticism of the content of their character, rather focus on criticism of the content of their arguments. Carl
Good point, Carl, their approach is obviously to provoke a fight based on an emotional response and causing as much disruption as possible and I am so glad that GMC did not fall for that ridiculous trick. Stick to the facts, lay them out clear and logically. When the dust settles folks will sort this out correctly and they will be ashamed of VINE and PETA….again.
This reminds me of the ALAR scare of 20 years ago, the totally fabricated controversy authored by Jeremy Rifkin and the EDF. Media grab based on lies, many good, hard working farm families, apple growers were damaged severely and many never recovered.November 14, 2012 at 2:40 pm #75771
@Carl Russell 37581 wrote:
“soulless………. ??? Carl
What does that mean? Can’t find it in the dictionary.November 14, 2012 at 2:55 pm #75760J-LParticipant
Great letter Donn (and the board). Tim and others are right, it’s a must to be logical in your thining and avoid the ‘knee-jerk’ response most all have the urge to use. Not my strong suit.
I still say it is a shame the way things unravelled with this.November 14, 2012 at 3:14 pm #75774Kevin CunninghamParticipant
This whole situation is very worrying. I don’t want to think that this sets a precedent that extremist groups can, with enough bullying get their way or at least change the normal course of events. I am outraged that VINE and PETA have essentially overturned a decision that was made by the students in regards to school property and a farm project. This is not constructive dialouge over a difficult topics or decisions, this is essentially terrorism. That might sound harsh but the tactics that have been employed by the VINE and PETA are extremist and designed to frighten the faculty into submission to their desires. All that said I do hope that somebody can think through and rationaly write a letter in regards to this situation because it makes me fume and rant.
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