College will slaughter animal mascots for sustainability

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Robby Soave Reporter
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A controversial decision at Green Mountain College in Vermont has pitted animal welfare liberals and environmentalist liberals against each other.

The college — which prides itself as a sustainable campus, emphasizes environmental studies, and hosts a campus farm — recently decided to slaughter two beloved oxen and serve them up as meals in the cafeteria.

The oxen are named Bill and Lou, and have worked at Green Mountain’s student-run Cerridwen Farm for 10 years, pulling carts and wagons. They appear in promotional photos and videos, and have been called de facto mascots of Green Mountain College and the farm. But the animals are no longer able to work, and the college’s commitment to sustainability requires that absolutely no resources be put to waste.

The oxen will provide a significant food source for meat-eating students in the dining hall, according to a spokesperson for the college.

“When they are processed for meat, the oxen will yield about a ton of beef,” said Kevin Coburn, director of communications at Green Mountain College, in an interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation.

But for supporters of animal welfare, slaughtering Lou and Bill is both cruel and needless. VINE Sanctuary, an animal shelter in Vermont, agreed to adopt the oxen and provide for them free of charge. The college denied the request, and has insisted on killing the animals.

The denial shocked VINE Sanctuary.

“We’ve been offering sanctuary for 13 years to animals … and never once had anyone ever refused,” said Miriam Jones, cofounder of VINE Sanctuary, in an interview with TheDC News Foundation.

Jones would be satisfied with any arrangement that spared the animals’ lives.

“We’ll be very sad that we won’t be able to care for them, but honestly, if they were still alive somewhere else we would be equally happy as long as they were getting good care,” she said. “That would be all that matters to us.”

The college gave two reasons for denying the request. For one, Lou had suffered a leg injury, and officials feared the oxen would not be able to adapt to a new location.

“The transition to a new setting will be very difficult for them, and it really postpones the fact that someone else will need to decide whether it’s kinder to kill them or have them continue on in increasing discomfort,” said Coburn. “We didn’t feel comfortable outsourcing that decision.”

This fear was entirely misplaced, said Jones, who noted that no animals had ever failed to adapt before.

“Cows are among the most sociable animals I have ever met,” she said. “We’ve taken in animals for 13 years. Chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks, doves, cows, emus. Emus! Talk about habit-oriented animals. They are excruciatingly habit-oriented. They want the same pathways every day. And they adapted, and they had lived 16 years.”

Even so, the college’s commitment to sustainability mandates that the oxen must die, the college argued in a press release:

“If sent to a sanctuary, Bill and Lou would continue to consume resources at a significant rate. As a sustainable farm, we can’t just consider the responsible stewardship of the resources within our boundaries, but of all the earth’s resources.”

Coburn elaborated that the college had the environment in mind when it made the decision.

“Even if the cost of keeping Bill and Lou alive does not come out of our pockets, it does come out of the environment’s,” said Coburn.

But Bruce Friederich, senior director for strategic initiatives at Farm Sanctuary, an animal welfare organization, called the college’s logic “coldly utilitarian” and out of step with a truly sustainable agenda.

“Within the college’s own sustainability ethic, this decision makes no sense,” he said in an interview with TheDC News Foundation. “For the same reason sustainability would not point toward euthanizing your pet dog or cat because she was consuming resources and not contributing beyond companionship, a true environmental ethic that incorporates sustainability does not point toward killing integral members of your community, which is what the college called Bill and Lou, simply because one of them can’t work anymore.”

Green Mountain College said the decision was made with input from students, faculty, and farmers. The issue was approached from both ethical and environmental perspectives.

Jones was surprised by what she viewed as a close-minded attitude toward the issue from the student population of the college. She expected them to act out against the administration. Instead, no one said a word.

“Everybody in the area knows what’s going on and not one student has … gotten in touch,” she said. “It’s practically locked down at that school.”

Animal welfare advocates, including Jones and Friederich, have attempted to generate public interest toward the plights of Lou and Bill. Friederich wrote columns and gave interviews urging the college to reconsider.

“There is no way that the college could — and it hasn’t tried to — argue that Bill and Lou would want to be killed and eaten by what they formerly considered to be their community,” he said.

Bill and Lou might not have much time left. The college confirmed that the oxen would be slaughtered and rendered into beef any day now.

“It’s later this month, but I don’t know what the precise date is,” said Coburn.

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