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Vermont college postpones oxen slaughter over threats

6:57 AM, Nov 2, 2012   |    comments
In this 2009 file photo, oxen Bill and Lou head out to work in the field on the Green Mountain College campus farm in Poultney, Vt. (Photo: Alden Pellett AP)
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BURLINGTON, Vt. -- The demise of two oxen long used on a farm at a local college has been postponed because area slaughterhouses have been deluged with protests.

The decision to slaughter the animals and use the meat in the dining hall at Green Mountain College remains unchanged, however.

Previously, college provost William Throop had said the animals would be sent out for slaughter by the end of October to a local facility that "works very humanely." College spokesman Kevin Coburn later said that that the time and location would not be disclosed.

In a statement Wednesday evening, college President Paul J. Fonteyn said the Poultney-based college would not be able to meet that timetable "because regional slaughterhouses have been inundated with hostile and threatening e-mails and phone calls from extremist groups bent on interfering with the processing."

"These are mostly small, family operated Vermont businesses that provide local meat for local consumers," he said. "This is a busy time of year for them, and many have expressed fears that their operations might be shut down by protesters if they accept the oxen for processing."

Asked if Champlain Beef Co. in Whitehall, N.Y., had received protests regarding the oxen, a woman who answered the phone Thursday said, "We don't know anything about them," and then the call ended.

In Ferrisburgh, Carl Cushing, owner of Vermont Livestock Slaughter and Processing, said his business had received 14 voice mail messages, mostly from out-of-state and some of them threatening. The messages were to the effect that if Cushing participated in the animals' slaughter, he would be put out of business.

Cushing said his business doesn't handle oxen anyway; it doesn't have the equipment. He said some of the callers used the same talking points. He suggested that those opposed to animal slaughter have more civil ways to express their views.

Protests erupted last month after the college announced the decision to slaughter the oxen, which have worked on the farm as draft animals for a decade and are known by their names, Bill and Lou. Lou came down with an injury over the summer and could no longer work; farm managers concluded Bill would not work well with a new partner, and they purchased a new team of oxen.

The college held a public forum on the oxen's fate, and the decision by farm managers to send them out for slaughter - and use the meat in the dining hall - conformed to the college farm's model of sustainability and was approved by a majority of the college community, according to Coburn.

Online petitions calling for a reversal of the decision gathered tens of thousands of signatures, and a relatively small protest demonstration at the college last week was met by student counter-demonstrators who supported the decision.

The college declined an offer from a Vermont animal sanctuary to take the animals, citing the sustainability model and the need to feed meat-eating students in an ecologically responsible way.

"We have decided to continue to care for the oxen until a date with a reputable USDA approved slaughterhouse can be obtained," Fonteyn said in his statement. "In the meantime, Lou and Bill will not be sent to a sanctuary but will continue to stay with us in familiar surroundings. Eventually the animals will be processed as planned."

Burlington (Vt.) Free Press

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