Oxen burgers coming to Green Mountain College

Photo by Green Mountain College

Yesterday morning, NPR’s Weekend Edition ran a fascinating story about Bill and Lou, two oxen that worked the farm on the campus of Green Mountain College, an environmentally focused Vermont school. One of the animals was injured after stepping in a gopher hole, and the pair—who worked as a team—were retired earlier this year. They are now slated to slaughtered to provide meat for campus food service, generating some controversy:

The petition to save Bill and Lou on Facebook has attracted more than 30,000 signatures from all over the world. The animal sanctuary [called Vine] has offered to take Bill and Lou to live there for free. Vine’s Pattrice Jones says the staff was stunned when the college said no and cited sustainability as one of its reasons.

“We do not believe that the way to conserve resources is to kill the elderly and disabled to prevent them from using up resources because they’re not useful anymore,” Jones says. “We just ethically find that repugnant.”

Philip Ackerman-Leist, head of Green Mountain College’s Farm and Food project, says the issue is a lot more complicated. “We have been very clear from the beginning that this is not a petting zoo,” he says. “It was going to be a sustainable farm operation.”

Ackerman-Leist notes that 70 percent of students eat meat. But 12 years ago, when the college began developing its sustainable farm program, vegetarian students specifically asked that livestock be included to confront the realities of eating meat. He says this debate goes way beyond Bill and Lou, and faculty and students have spent a lot of time discussing it.

Head here for the full print and audio versions of the story, along with some great photos.

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