Author Archives: Mollie

Drovers CattleNetwork: The voice of reason (Interview with GMC)

Dan Murphy
November 21, 2012
Full article

As a professor of philosophy and environmental studies at Vermont’s Green Mountain College — and something of an authority on animal ethics — Prof. Steven Fesmire found himself at the epicenter of the recent activist-driven flap over the college’s plans to slaughter and serve the meat from two working oxen that toiled on the college’s on-site farm.

The idea was to align the school’s farming operations with a robust concept of sustainability. The result of what seemed to many as a pragmatic—if somewhat controversial—decision was an outcry ginned up by members of VINE, a local animal activist group that operates a sanctuary its members lobbied for the college to consider as an alternative destination for the pair of aging work animals.

Both Fesmire and William Throop, the college’s provost who also specializes in environmental ethics, were caught up in an aggressive campaign to demonize the college and threaten the owners of a local packing plant where school officials had planned to send the oxen. The plant owner balked after receiving numerous threats, and due to an injury, one of the oxen eventually had to be euthanized.

That was hardly the end of the controversy, however, which continues to reverberate across the rural campus, as students, activists and Green Mountain’s leadership grapple with the fallout of a highly charged, media-driven food fight.

To set the record straight about “Oxengate”, and to discuss the larger issue animal agriculture, Prof. Fesmire spoke with Contributing Editor Dan Murphy.

Q. Let’s start at the obvious place: What happened with the protests against the college’s plans to turn its oxen into meat, and what’s the situation there currently?

Fesmire: It’s become a serious dispute. What we’re dealing with here are vegan abolitionists, the folks who think that animal agriculture itself has to be abolished. The vitriol and the harassment against us on this issue is coming from these people, diehard animal rights abolitionists. From their perspective, any aspect of animal agriculture is analogous to human slavery. Thus, there’s no such thing as a “better master.” From their standpoint, even small-scale animal operations, such as we have at Green Mountain College, are no better than the concentrated feeding operations you find in the industry.

Q. You have gotten some very critical comments directed at you, as I have, despite Green Mountain’s attempts to be even-handed about this issue.

Fesmire: Yes. To these folks, any type of animal use is a violation of the fundamental rights of the animal, so it all has to go away. These folks are organized, and with social media, they have a big international network they can mobilize, so that’s where the heat’s coming from.

Q. And there’s been quite a lot of heat, as I understand.

Fesmire: Yes. It’s interesting. Most people—regardless of their diet—might agree or disagree about our decision about the oxen. But this [controversy] has almost nothing to do with Bill and Lou [the two oxen]. They’re merely props. However, the activists see them as mascots for the animal rights movement. This [dispute] isn’t about the vegetarian agenda; most vegetarians are used to living with the [meat] industry. Many of them eat dairy products. This controversy is about the vegan agenda.

Q. How is that different from being vegetarian?

Fesmire: Most people—even vegetarians—can accept that there is a plurality of different diets. For instance, a recent graduate of nearby Middlebury College, who is a vegan, emailed our president and said, “I’m so sick about what these [activists] are doing to you guys, I’m going to send you a contribution.” And he mailed a check for $250. That attitude is pretty prevalent at our college, and that’s what we’re used to.

Q. But that’s not where these protestors are coming from, eh?

Fesmire: No, not at all. The people who are protesting against our college believe there is only one right diet—a vegan diet—and it must be imperialistically forced upon everyone else. To them, that’s the only possible “ethical” diet. It’s not a matter of accepting there are lots of dietary choices out there. They believe in the PETA concept of meat is murder. They’re the ones who blocked off our slaughterhouses, they’re the ones who have threatened our local businesses, they’re the ones who are harassing us daily, and they should not be confused in any way with “typical” vegetarians or vegans.

Q. Without condemning industrial agriculture, or exclusively touting small-scale farming, how do we get to a more balanced approach to food production?

Fesmire: Well, on the issue of animal agriculture, you have to get past thinking that the only choices are business as usual or abolition [of all livestock]. If you get past that, you can have an intelligent conversation and people have some flexibility to think about alternatives. But these pompous, sanctimonious abolitionists are utterly incapable of shining a spotlight that can lead us forward. They block the road on that kind of dialogue.

Yes, the industry does need to change, but right now, there’s not a lot of room to have the dialogue that we need to discuss how we might do that.

Portland Press Herald: Maine farmers, others have court date to refute Monsanto ruling

At issue in the appeal is Monsanto’s right to hold seed patents and farmers’ need to be exempt from lawsuits.
By Avery Yale Kamila
December 3, 2012
Full Article

A lawsuit filed by a nationwide consortium of farmers against the chemical giant Monsanto concerning genetically modified seeds is headed for court again.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C., will hear oral arguments in the case on Jan. 10 and is expected to rule within three months of the hearing.

The case questions Monsanto’s legal basis for genetically modified seed patents, and seeks blanket protection from patent-infringement lawsuits for farmers, should their crops be contaminated through unwanted pollination by Monsanto’s genetically altered plants. The plaintiffs include Maine farmers.

By law, certified organic crops cannot contain genetically modified material.

While most of the plaintiffs are organic farmers, some are conventional farmers who farm with seed that hasn’t been genetically modified and face the same risks of contamination.

Genetically modified seeds are protected by patents. Farmers who grow genetically modified crops must buy new seeds each year, and cannot use traditional seed-saving practices.

In February, U.S. District Judge Naomi Buchwald of the Southern District of New York dismissed the case brought by the national, nonprofit Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, which is based in Washington, Maine, and whose board president is a Maine potato-seed farmer, Jim Gerritsen of Wood Prairie Farm in Bridgewater.

The trade association seeks to have the judgment reversed and the case sent back to federal district court. Monsanto will argue that Buchwald’s decision should stand.

The lawsuit was filed in March 2011 by the trade association and more than 70 agricultural and consumer groups, with legal backing from the Public Patent Foundation, a nonprofit group that works to reduce abuses of the U.S. patent system.

In dismissing the case, Buchwald acknowledged that some of the plaintiffs had stopped growing certain crops for fear of being sued, but ruled that the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring the lawsuit.

The judge also called the farmers’ claims that they could be subject to patent-infringement lawsuits “unsubstantiated” because “not one single plaintiff claims to have been so threatened.”

The plaintiffs claim that Buchwald ignored Supreme Court precedent relating to intellectual property law and patent infringement litigation.

Calling the case one of basic property rights, Gerritsen said, “what our briefs show is that (Buchwald) committed certain legal and factual errors that led her to the wrong conclusion and led her to dismiss the case.”

The trade association’s brief names specific farmers who have stopped growing certain crops for fear of contamination and subsequent lawsuits by Monsanto. The brief also names plaintiffs, including Maine-based Fedco Seeds, that have discovered unwanted genetic contamination when they have sent their seed out for third-party testing.

In a statement issued after Buchwald dismissed the lawsuit, Monsanto said the judge’s ruling “makes it clear that there was neither a history of behavior nor a reasonable likelihood that Monsanto would pursue patent infringement matters against farmers who have no interest in using the company’s patented seed products.”

According to a report from the Center for Food Safety, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., Monsanto annually investigates about 500 farmers for possible patent infringement. The same report says Monsanto sued 144 farmers from 1997 to 2010, and settled 700 cases out of court in that period.

The trade association is raising money to enable its member farmers to go to Washington, D.C., to hear the oral arguments in January. During oral arguments this year in New York, 60 farmers from more than 20 states and Canadian provinces filled the courtroom.

VT Digger: Shumlin supports GMO labeling concept, but says legislation would likely be trounced by the courts

By Anne Galloway
November 28, 2012
Full Article

Gov. Peter Shumlin holds out slim hope that lawmakers and his administration can devise legislation that will require genetically modified organism or GMO labeling on food and sidestep future legal battles.

“I was hoping California would pass it so they could be the guinea pig on that one, but as you know it didn’t pass on referendum,” Shumlin said. “That’s too bad for us, that’s too bad for America. I would love to figure out a resolution to the GMO labeling bill without repeating what we’ve been through before.”

Shumlin said the GMO labeling bill is nearly identical to the bovine somatropin labeling bill that passed during the Dean administration in the 1990s, and failed to meet legal muster in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. For that reason, he suggested another state should take the issue on.

“I would look to work on something that would work that would not require us to go through legal battles. Can we make some steps here that would avoid the courts who are going to just say hey not only did we beat you once but we’ve got the case law to show this is the same case.”

Last year a bill stalled in the House Judiciary Committee because of legal concerns raised by the Shumlin administration.

11/21/12 We are Grateful

The Board and Staff of Rural Vermont wish you, your family, and friends a happy, healthy, local, and sustainable Thanksgiving holiday.

We give thanks to each of you for your generous support of our vision for community-based food systems which are self-reliant and based on reverence for the earth. Systems that build living soils which nurture animals and people with wholesome, natural products supporting healthy, thriving farms and communities. These communities in turn work to encourage and support current and future farmers, continuing our Vermont heritage of neighbors feeding neighbors. This abundant and generous way of life celebrates our diversity and interdependence.

A Prayer among Friends

Among other wonders of our lives, we are alive

with one another, we walk here

in the light of this unlikely world

that isn’t ours for long.

May we spend generously

the time we are given.

May we enact our responsibilities

as thoroughly as we enjoy

our pleasures. May we see with clarity,

may we seek a vision

that serves all beings, may we honor

the mystery surpassing our sight,

and may we hold in our hands

the gift of good work

and bear it forth whole, as we

were borne forth by a power we praise

to this one Earth, this homeland of all we love.

“A Prayer among Friends” by John Daniel, from Of Earth.
© Lost Horse Press, 2012


Seven Days: A Kinder Kill

Skipping the slaughterhouse is increasingly popular — and sometimes illegal
By Kathryn Flagg
Full Article

For Monte Winship — “pushing 59,” stout and jovial and a well-known itinerant butcher in southern Vermont — it was business as usual on a mid-November Monday morning. With a reporter in tow, he’d taken the back roads to Spoon Mountain Farm in Middletown Springs in his black Ford F-150, admiring the views and chatting about the history of old farms along the way.

Having left his .22 rifle behind in the cab, he knocked on the door of the little white farmhouse and said his good mornings to the Lewis family, who milk about 25 Jerseys at their organic dairy.

But it wasn’t milk on the menu today — it was meat. Winship, who has been butchering animals in Vermont since his boyhood, was here to dispatch a beefy steer destined for the dinner table.

“Hi, girls,” Winship said to the doe-eyed Jerseys as he followed longtime friend and farmer Toby Lewis to the corral near the house.

Lewis and his adult daughter, Bess, spent a few moments cornering the steer in the corral, sending the gaggle of a dozen or so cows hustling this way and that. “You might want to come in here, too, Monte. Join the party,” Lewis called, so the butcher, a second halter in hand, slipped into the pen. Lewis sprang into action at an opportune moment, and soon they had a halter over the steer’s head; the animal went still and calm as Bess and Toby Lewis leaned heavily against his sides.

“He’s in good shape, Toby,” said Winship, appraising the 2-year-old animal — a Jersey-Hereford cross that Lewis nicknamed a “Jerford.” Out of the ring, the steer went a little stubborn, reluctant to move down the dirt road to the barn, but Bess and Lewis urged him along. “That’s a good boy,” Lewis said in a low, pleasant tone. “What a good boy.”

Soon enough they had him alongside the rear of the barn, at the top of a slight incline and out of sight of most of the herd. Winship pulled the .22 from his truck and loaded two bullets. “Not that I thought I’d have to shoot him more than once,” he said later, “but better safe than sorry.”

“He’s going to go down quick,” Lewis warned Bess. Winship raised his rifle, pointing the barrel directly at the steer’s forehead, and pulled the trigger. Just like that, the steer collapsed, as if his legs had turned to jelly beneath him. Winship slit his throat next, and the cow’s thick, red blood began its slow trickle down the hill. “No fuss, no muss,”

Winship said. What used to be the routine manner of acquiring meat for many Vermont farm families — raising and slaughtering an animal at home — is today a choice that borders on countercultural. Individuals are free to raise and slaughter meat for their own families’ consumption, but to buy or sell meat that has been slaughtered like the Lewises’ steer is illegal, and it’s hard to pretend otherwise. Meat processed at custom cutting shops, as this steer will be, leaves the shop wrapped in butcher’s paper stamped “Not for Sale.”

Yet farmers, butchers, meat inspectors and ag advocates all say there’s a thriving underground market for meat slaughtered on farms instead of in slaughterhouses. “What we hear, we figure, is the tip of the iceberg,” says Randy Quenneville, section chief for the Vermont Agency of Agriculture’s meat-inspection unit.

For farmers, on-farm slaughter can be a way to make a little extra money, hashing out deals under the table with friends and family. And some consumers are choosing this route — despite its illegality — for any number of reasons, from taste preferences to philosophical beliefs about how animals should be raised and killed.

“[A farmer might] have a bunch of people over for dinner, and everyone says, ‘Oh, this is fantastic. Can I buy some?’” explains Andrea Stander, director of the advocacy group Rural Vermont. “If they want to be legal, they have to say no.” But that leaves farmers — especially small-scale producers — facing something of a conundrum. Shipping animals to a slaughterhouse is expensive.

Slaughterhouses are slammed during the times of year when many producers want to process their meat, typically the fall. In some cases, Stander says, “people are booking slaughter dates literally before the animals are born.”

There’s more to the choice than just convenience. Stander says some farmers — and consumers — much prefer killing an animal in the low-stress environment of the farm where it was raised to loading it onto a truck and shipping it to a slaughterhouse.

Rural Vermont has pushed hard for laws that would allow on-farm slaughter, and helped pass a 2008 bill that would allow customers to purchase living livestock, which the farmer would then raise and slaughter on the farm. At the time, it seemed like a loophole that might loosen on-farm regulations. But the state ag agency, after consulting with the feds, said the law would threaten Vermont’s standing with the USDA. Stander maintains the state wasn’t asking the right questions and didn’t push hard enough at the federal level.

“We have been arguing all along that they didn’t get a definitive answer from the USDA,” she says. “They didn’t really go to bat for this law.”

Federal guidelines dictate that if farmers want to sell and butcher an animal on-farm, they must, at the very least, use a “custom” slaughter facility. That doesn’t have to be fancy — basically, it boils down to a sanitary room that has hot and cold water as well as washable floors, ceilings and walls.

Quenneville says the state could face serious consequences if it ignores USDA rules and allows farmers to butcher meat on farms and sell it to whomever they like. The USDA could yank its funding for Vermont’s meat-inspection program and step in to enforce federal rules.

With advocates and regulators at a standstill on the issue, a few farmers are looking into the USDA-sanctioned option of building small, custom slaughter facilities. Chip Conquest, a legislator and farmer from Wells River, is rebuilding his barn after a fire destroyed it several years ago. He’s including a small slaughter room and meat-cutting facility.

“I’m finding out that it is expensive,” says Conquest, who has a small beef herd of about 21 cows. He can’t separate the cost of the slaughter facility from the overall cost of rebuilding his barn, but he does say it’s greater than he had anticipated.

Conquest and Stander want to see a pilot project that would make available basic floor plans and designs for on-farm facilities. And the state is on board. Earlier this year, the Vermont Agriculture Development Board recommended a similar plan.

“A lot of producers felt like the cost of that [facility] would just be prohibitive,” says Chelsea Bardot Lewis, the senior agricultural development coordinator at the ag agency. The pilot project would not only nail down costs but give producers a blueprint for moving forward.

Bardot Lewis still calls commercially inspected meat processing the “gold standard” in Vermont, but she acknowledges that, for small producers with direct relationships with their consumers, legal on-farm slaughter could be a better business model.

“It’s a nice stepping stone,” she says. “Selling halves and quarters is a really great way for small producers to be profitable, and if we can get more consumers to think about buying meat that way, that’s fantastic.”

At the Lewis farm in Middletown Springs, Winship worked in the open air. First he rolled the massive steer onto its back and propped up the animal with a steel bar. He stepped into rubber boots and strapped on a long, black rubber apron. He filled a bucket with soapy water, which he used to splash his hands and instruments every few minutes. Though Winship admitted, “You’re not in a controlled environment” on the farm, he said he always does his best to keep his tools clean.

Before beginning the heavy work of skinning, gutting and cleaning the carcass, Winship rolled the steer’s long tail between his toe and the grassy ground. He always tests the tail because an old butcher once taught him that a cow’s tail is especially sensitive.

“Usually I take the tongue out first,” he continued, slicing the foot-long muscle from the animal’s head and tossing it into a plastic bag lining another bucket. Here he would collect some of the vitals — tongue, heart, liver — for adventurous diners. The feet followed, removed at the joints to make the severing easier and then tossed aside.

Winship has been butchering at least one animal every year on the Lewis farm for the past 35 years. “When you go, there won’t be many people doing what you’re doing,” said Toby Lewis, who sat on the grass near the butcher, looking on while Winship worked. “Do you want this fat for the birds?” Winship asked, as he began the long cut down the steer’s stomach.

Before long, he was ready to hoist the animal up on two hooks dangling from the bucket of Lewis’ John Deere tractor. A foul-smelling liquid gushed out and rushed down the hill. Winship didn’t balk. He moved around the animal methodically, loosening its hide from the body with quick flashes of his knife. The animal’s fat — yellow, owing to its Jersey genes — gleamed in the mid-morning sun.

When he finished splitting the steer’s belly, an enormous pile of innards — four stomachs and a curling mass of intestines — rested on the ground beneath the carcass. Winship stepped in among them and continued his work.

It’s not just inspectors who are skittish about on-farm slaughter. Some farmers take offense at the idea, too. Among them is Arthur Meade, who used to skirt the rules and allow Muslim customers to slaughter their animals in the Koran-prescribed halal fashion on his Morrisville farm. He straightened out after some run-ins with the state, and became the first farmer in Vermont to build a custom slaughter facility on his farm. Now he, and other farmers who rent his facility, can sell customers a live animal and then kill it legally on-site.

Meade alleges that there’s a “tremendous amount” of underground meat sales.  Meade says it’s just not fair when another farmer undercuts his prices by ignoring the rules. So when he heard about a farmer allowing illegal on-farm kills during the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha in October, Meade filed a complaint with the meat-inspection unit at the Agency of Agriculture.

A few years ago, after his new facility was up and running, Meade could sell 40 or 50 animals for that feast holiday. This year, he sold two — a change he blames on illegal farmyard slaughter. The complaint resulted in an ag agency investigation, which is still under way. Meade says he only filed the complaint after first approaching the farmer and offering to help explain the regulations.

“I just want everybody to play in the same sandbox,” he says. Meat inspectors admit it’s impossible to clamp down on illegal slaughter unless they receive such complaints. The state doesn’t even keep a registry of itinerant butchers, so no one can be sure who is providing the service. What’s more, Quenneville says, it’s difficult to catch illegal slaughter in the act. If an inspector stumbles on an on-farm slaughter, and the farmer says the animal is for his or her personal use, it’s hard to prove otherwise.

By the end of the morning, Winship had transformed the steer into a skinned carcass — not the living, breathing animal it had been two hours earlier, but not quite a supermarket steak, either. He cut the carcass in half lengthwise with a reciprocating saw run off an extension cord from the barn, but left the two halves joined at the shoulder. Lewis kicked the John Deere into action and slowly rumbled toward Winship’s Ford. Winship explained that he liked waiting to make the final cuts until the tractor was poised above the truck — otherwise, two swinging halves of meat, each more than 300 pounds, could leave a smaller tractor “tippy.”

This time, though, that wasn’t much of a concern. “That tractor could hold up an elephant,” Winship said. With the carcass still dangling in the air, Winship and Lewis unspooled a roll of heavy plastic wrapping and lined the deep truck bed. Then Winship severed the last bonds at the cow’s shoulder, and, as Lewis lowered the massive halves into the truck, the butcher made his final cuts — slicing through meat and fat and connective tissue to render the carcass into four hulking quarters.

He folded the edges of the plastic around the quarters and covered the meat with a few clean, faded sheets — to let it breathe, he said. “It’s all over but the crying,” Winship added. But the mood on the farm was far from somber. Lewis’ wife and adult daughter ambled out to visit with the butcher. “It just looks so small now in the back of the truck,” Bess Lewis said, peering into the truck bed. She remembered Winship visiting the farm when she was a little girl, and the sense of horror and fascination she felt in those days about the process of slaughtering animals. Winship was always kind to her, she recalled, dutifully teaching her about the parts of the animal’s body as he plucked them, still warm, from a carcass.

“This cow didn’t even know to be afraid,” she said a few minutes later. “That’s the nice thing about Monte. He always has such a calm presence.”

Depending on how far he travels, Winship charges between $50 and $75 to slaughter a cow and transport it to a custom meat-cutting shop. He also takes the animals’ hides; after cramming the steer’s thick, heavy hide into a large bag at the Lewis farm, he told me he could sell it for perhaps another $20 to a fur buyer in New York.

Winship first took up itinerant slaughter work as a young newlywed trying to make ends meet, but he said it was no get-rich-quick proposition. On this particular morning, the task required him to schlep from his home in Clarendon Springs down to the Lewis farm in Middletown Springs, then over to Fair Haven to deposit the quarters at Tom’s Custom Meat Cutting Shop. All in all, it took between four and five hours — and at 3 p.m., Winship would start his eight-hour shift at the General Electric plant in Rutland, where he’s worked for 32 years.

After a morning with Winship, it was hard not to suspect that he was in the slaughter business, at least a little bit, for more than just the money. He was a talker, and, after packing up the steer, he spent a long time leaning against his pickup, gabbing with the Lewises about old friends and neighbors.

As he took the back roads to Fair Haven, Winship had a story about every other farm along the road, not to mention every meat cutter who worked in this part of the state. There was Stanley Baker’s “cut-up shop” in Ludlow, and the Tarbell place, and the old Clark Norton farm. In the ’70s, it was “a lot of pigs, a lot of pigs,” he recalled.

When Winship’s three sons were teenagers, he used to take on lots of poultry jobs, bringing the boys along to earn spending money. All along, he said, his work had been mostly for backyard farmers. In Fair Haven, Winship backed his truck right into the meat-cutting shop attached to Theresa and Tom Fitzgerald’s house on 2nd Street. Tom, 77, was wearing a Marine Corps ball cap and a white jacket.

Winship and the Fitzgeralds fell into a practiced routine: Winship pulled the quarters to the edge of the truck and snagged them with a large metal hook; Theresa operated the winch that hoisted the meat from the truck bed. They weighed each half — 311 and 326 pounds, respectively — and Tom Fitzgerlad stamped each quarter with a blue “Not for Sale” label. In five or six days’ time, the meat would be cut, frozen, packed and ready to truck back to the Lewis farm. “That’s a nice clean job, Monte,” Tom said approvingly.

Winship said he thought about opening a slaughterhouse as a younger man, and, a few years ago, the state approached him with a similar proposition. But now it’s too late for him — at nearly 60, he’s no longer game for the risk and investment of starting a business.

Winship admitted the work is hard — tough on the fingers, in cold weather and physically demanding — but he’s determined to keep with it as long as he’s able. “I don’t want to be one of those guys who fishes all day and drinks beer all night,” he said. Winship described the work in prosaic terms — “not the most pleasant job in the world” — but said he likes to be outside and work with farmers.

“I don’t think too much about the killing part of it. You can’t dwell on it.” He respects the animals, he added, and prides himself on working quickly, efficiently and cleanly. Does he care whether the farmers he serves sell their meat on the underground market? “It’s like that old saying: If you don’t know, you don’t have to lie about it,” Winship remarked. He takes the “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach, he said, just trying to do right by his customers and the animals. “It’s honest work,” Winship said. “It keeps me out of trouble.” California’s Failed Proposition on Genetically Modified Foods Hasn’t Stopped Activists in Connecticut

By Gregory B. Hladky
November 14, 2012
Full Article

Connecticut foodie activists say they were disappointed but not surprised that a California ballot proposition to require that foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) be labeled went down to defeat last week.

And they insist that defeat won’t stop them from pushing ahead with plans to ask lawmakers in this state to pass similar GMO labeling legislation in 2013. “I think we’ll get it passed,” says Tara Cook-Littman, head of Right To Know Connecticut. “I really do.”

The reason the defeat of California’s GMO proposal (on a 53-47 percent vote) wasn’t much of a shock was the ferocity of the opposition campaign in that state. Big business, led by GMO giant Monsanto, waged a $49 million effort to convince California voters to kill the labeling plan.

Monsanto is the world’s leading producer of genetically modified seeds and has been a relentless foe of any labeling proposals. The company contributed an estimated $8.1 million to the effort to defeat California’s GMO-labeling Proposition 37.

Officials both at Monsanto and within the federal government argue that indicating on labels whether a food has been genetically modified would only “confuse” consumers. (Most consumers, according to various polls, are in favor of GMO labeling, but that apparently isn’t a factor for the feds.)

“This issue is so slippery and the opposition is so willing to stretch the truth… and is so wealthy, that it’s not surprising we lost,” says Bill Duesing, executive director of the Connecticut chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association.

Duesing and Cook-Littman were among the speakers at a legislative GMO task force meeting last week.

“The currently dominant industrial food system is dependent on our ignorance,” Duesing told the task force, “not just about GMOs, but about health effects, labor practices, environmental costs and more.”

Duesing urged Connecticut legislators to pay attention to who was financing the opposition to California’s Proposition 37. “They are the ones who currently control the food system,” he said.

Polls consistently show that a large majority of Americans favor GMO labeling, Duesing pointed out.

“In a commonsense world, you would pass a GMO labeling bill out of committee and through the [state] House and Senate for a willing governor to sign,” he added. “We are not in a commonsense world because of the pervasive damage that money and power cause to public discourse and our society.”

Duesing says Connecticut’s anti-GMO activists are hoping to study what happened in California and develop ways to counter the heaving opposition from Monsanto and the food industry.

“We hope to learn from that experience to make our case here,” he explains. One of the complaints from critics in California was that the Proposition 37 plan was too loosely worded and too vague. “We want to get a much tighter bill here that hopefully we can pass,” Duesing says.

Connecticut food activists originally hoped that a victory in California might lend momentum to their push for GMO labeling here. But Cook-Littman doesn’t think the failure out West will act as a drag on Connecticut’s labeling campaign.

“We actually win every time someone learns about GMO foods and decides not to buy them anymore,” she says. “We had 4,277,985 people [in California] vote in favor of Prop 37,” Cook-Littman adds, saying that in itself was a kind of victory.

She says the expectation is that Monsanto and other Big Food industries will be going all out to block a Connecticut labeling law in 2013.

“It’s a different kind of fight here,” Cook-Littman points out, a battle that will be fought in the halls of the General Assembly rather than through the vast TV and radio campaigns that were used in California.

“The public wants this to happen, and our legislators want this to happen,” she insists. “This is only the beginning.”

AlterNet: Look Out Monsanto: Campaigns to Label Genetically Engineered Foods Are Heating Up

Organizers in more than 30 states have begun building labeling campaigns, under the banner of the Coalition of States for Mandatory GMO labeling.
November 15, 2012
Published in partnership with
Full Article

On November 6, after spending $46 million burying California’s voters under an  avalanche of deception , Monsanto and their buddies in the pesticide and junk food business declared victory. They had defeated the “right to know”, and successfully protected their “right” to keep you in the dark about whether your food is genetically engineered.

Jennifer Hatcher, senior vice president of government and public affairs for the anti-labeling Food Marketing Institute,  breathed a sigh of relief  after Prop 37 narrowly lost, saying: “This gives us hope that you can… defeat a ballot initiative and go directly to the voters.” But she also expressed concern: “We hope we don’t have too many of them, because you can’t keep doing that over and over again.”

If Ms. Hatcher wants to keep labeling suppressed, it looks like she may be in for a rough couple of years. Because what Monsanto and its allies hadn’t counted on was that despite all their lies and deception, it’s actually pretty hard to convince people that they shouldn’t be allowed to know what they’re eating. And although $46 million managed to put out one fire, it seems to have started about 30 new ones.

Indeed, efforts are already underway to put a similar initiative  on the ballot  in Washington for the 2013 election (where San Juan County voters chose on November 6 to  make growing GMOs illegal  in their county). And organizers in  30 other states have also begun  building labeling campaigns, under the banner of the Coalition of States for Mandatory GMO labeling.

With 93 percent of the American public  supporting the right to know, it looks like it’s going to take a lot more than a one deceptive, high-budget ad campaign to keep those pesky labels at bay.

The War Continues

Many people are choosing to boycott companies that continue to use GMOs and that  oppose labeling . Kellogg’s has been a particularly visible target, since the company strives for a healthy image, and yet contributed $632,000 to the fight against Prop 37. For  several months , the  company’s Facebook page  has become something of a marketing embarrassment. It’s plastered with comments by angry consumers calling the company out for fighting GMO labeling, and threatening a boycott until the company changes its ways.

Other consumers are choosing to buy products from companies that are going GMO-free. In fact, consumer demand for non-GMO products is rising fast. The non-profit  Non-GMO Project , which offers a third party certification program, has now verified 764 products, and had a  record-shattering 189  new enrollment inquiries in October.

More and more people are becoming alarmed about the widespread prevalence of GMOs in the food supply, and are taking steps to steer clear. This could create a tremendous market opportunity for companies that seize the day and get certified. Even shoppers who aren’t terribly concerned about GMOs may be developing more trust in the products that carry the “Non-GMO Project” certification.

A team of organizations, led by Care2 and the Food Revolution Network, have  launched a petition demanding that Congress  label GMOs that has already generated nearly 50,000 signatures. And efforts of the  JustLabelIt petition to the FDA , which launched a year ago and have generated more than 1.3 million signatures, are being renewed in hopes that the FDA might eventually dig itself out of  Monsanto’s back pocket .

For the passionate activist, there’s always more you can do, like taking advantage of the educational resources offered for free by the  Institute for Responsible Technology, and sharing them with friends. Or lobbying your member of Congress, your mayor, your governor, your local media outlets, or your relatives.

Monsanto would probably like us all to sit alone in the dark, munching on bags of genetically engineered popcorn. But the tide of history is turning, and regardless of how much they spend attempting to deceive us, we will prevail.


11/15 Alert: Responding to Bullying with Solidarity


Dear Members and Friends:

This week we received an urgent request for solidarity and support from our friends at Green Mountain College. As you probably know, the College, and more specifically its on campus working farm, has been the target of an unprecedented and downright brutal campaign of attacks. These attacks have been focused on the GMC community’s thoughtful and transparent decision to stick to their principles of sustainable agriculture in deciding how to handle the fate of their aging pair of working oxen – the now infamous “Bill & Lou.”

GMC’s Philip Ackerman-Leist, who is the Director of the GMC Farm & Food Project, sent an open letter to the Vermont agricultural community asking for help in countering the harassment by outside special interest groups that has so profoundly impacted the College, its programs and most importantly its community. You can read Philip’s letter here.

In response, Rural Vermont’s Board of Directors and staff have submitted an Op Ed to Vermont’s media. You can read it here.

We agree with Professor Ackerman-Leist’s assessment that what is at risk is the freedom of farmers and all of us who seek to produce and choose our food according to our values and needs.

To amplify our voices, please join us and TAKE ACTION TODAY by sending your own letter of support to your local media outlets. Please use the information on our website to create your letter. If you need assistance in identifying or contacting your local media, please contact Andrea or call Rural Vermont at 223-7222.

Thank you!


P.S. Please join Rural Vermont THIS SUNDAY for our annual storytelling event in Chester. Read on for details about this and another

fun and fundraising event.

with Annie Hawkins 


In the Arms of Mother Earth:  

Living Close on the Land

Sun Nov 18th at 7 pm

 First Universalist Parish, CHESTER

$5 – $15 sliding scale

All proceeds benefit Rural Vermont.

Sponsored by Lisai’s Chester Market, RB Erskine Inc., the Springfield Food Co-op, and  WAAWWE. Reception to follow performance, with treats donated by the Putney Food Co-op and volunteers. Thanks to our friends at the First Universalist Parish for donating this beautifully renovated space!

A personal invitation from Annie ….

Dear Friends,

All my life I’ve felt passionate about land, farming and good food. On my grandparents’ farm in Maryland, my grandfather taught me how to milk a cow and how to garden. My grandmother taught me how to cook. My father taught me how to walk quietly through woods and fields; to pay close attention to the world around us and to treat the earth with consideration and reverence.   

What does this autobiography have to do with Rural Vermont? Everything!

When I moved here in 1999 and learned about the work done by Rural Vermont, I knew I’d found a permanent home.

Rural Vermont has tirelessly worked for over 25 years at a grassroots level to provide public education and to identify regulatory and cultural hurdles that prevent neighbors from feeding neighbors. As mega-corporations seek to dominate our food supply and big-ag practices and development continue to erode our topsoil at a truly alarming rate, the work of Rural Vermont is ever more imperative.

My gratitude and respect for the staff, Board, and members of Rural Vermont is the reason I’ll be doing the 4th annual benefit storytelling program. And it’s the reason I invite you, yes, even cajole you to come, take a seat, enjoy the stories and the delicious desserts served after the program. Come and meet Rural Vermont’s excellent staff and other loyal supporters who work so hard for a sustainable life in this beautiful state we all treasure.

Cultivate your curiosity. Ask questions. (You’ll get clear answers.) Become a member. Get involved. I guarantee that your passion will take root and bloom.

With Warm Regards,




organized by Brattleboro Contra
Photo courtesy of Brattleboro Contra
Sunday, December 9th

7:30 pm – Beginners’ workshop at 7:15 pm

Old Stone Church, corner of Grove & Main Streets, BRATTLEBORO

Admission: $10-$15 sliding scale adults; $7 students & seniors

Proceeds benefit Rural Vermont!
Rebecca Lay calls, with music by Ethan Hazzard-Watkins on fiddle, Anna Patton on clarinet, and Andy Davis on piano

Our good friends at Brattleboro Contra have kindly offered to host another contra dance to benefit Rural Vermont! Rebecca Lay will call, and be joined by Ethan Hazzard-Watkins on fiddle, Anna Patton on clarinet, and Andy Davis on piano. New and experienced dancers and dancers of all ages are welcome. Mark you calendar, tell your friends, and meet us at the Old Stone Church on Dec 9th!


Front Porch Forum liasions – If you live in a town that has a Front Porch Forum, and are willing to be the Rural Vermont ambassador in your community by posting Rural Vermont events and relevant actions, please be in touch.

Posterers – A quick and simple method to help Rural Vermont spread the word about our upcoming events is by putting up posters in your community. Let us know if we can count on you.

Phone Callers – We need some help making personal invite calls to the upcoming contra dance to folks in southern Vermont. If you’re comfortable on the phone and would like to volunteer from home, this is the task for you!

If you can volunteer for any of the above, please email Shelby

or call the office at 802-223-7222 today!



Bigger IS Better
At its heart, Rural Vermont is a grassroots advocacy organization. That means our ability to get things done that you care about is directly tied to the number of members who support our work.

Our credibility and power comes directly from you – the people who share our values and our vision for a community-based food system that enables family farms to be economically viable and offers everyone access to healthy, locally-produced food of their choice.

To make this vision a reality, we need you.

P.S. If you THINK you’re already a member but aren’t 100% sure (and just because you’re receiving this email does NOT mean you’re a member), please contact Mollie to confirm your membership status.
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(802) 223-7222

Rural Vermont Responds to Common Cause Request from Green Mountain College

To learn more, visit the Farm Fresh Meat page.


Rural Vermont Op-Ed: Response to Common Cause Request from Green Mountain College

Dear Editor:

The recent controversy over the fate of Lou and Bill, an aged team of working oxen at Poultney’s Green Mountain College, illustrates the profound and dispiriting disconnect between contemporary American society and the source of our food.

After announcing that Lou and Bill would be slaughtered for beef and served in the school’s cafeteria, Green Mountain College became the subject of rampant harassment, including a cyber-attack, on-line bullying, and threats of physical violence. After weeks of bullying, the college relented. Lou, who suffered from chronic injury, was euthanized in cloak of night and under tight security; Bill will be kept on at the college’s farm. Now the GMC students are left questioning how to attain GMC’s stated goal 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, if they are not secure in making these decisions for themselves.

No matter what one thinks of the college’s choices regarding Lou and Bill, this episode is emblematic of our culture’s tragic desire to remain unaccountable to the ramifications of how we feed ourselves. Let us be clear: Truly sustainable agriculture and food production is dependent on animals, not only for the nourishment of their meat and milk, but also for the fertility of their manure, essential to the production of the fruits, vegetables, and cereal crops upon which all of us depend. Indeed, to erase animals from the cycle of agriculture is to ensure dependence on fossil fuel-based fertilizers. Sustainable? Not exactly.

We have suffered through multiple generations of agricultural and food production opacity. The time has come for full accountability and utter transparency regarding the most crucial, intimate exchange we all engage in: Food. The time has come to acknowledge that our very survival is dependent on the taking of life and to hold ourselves fully accountable to this truth, difficult as it may sometimes be. Green Mountain College set a strong example for all of us by having an open community forum for students to come to a shared decision about the fate of Bill and Lou. This shared decision-making is the essence of food sovereignty – the freedom for communities to choose how they will access their food according to their shared values and needs.

To be sure, there is no excuse for the deplorable conditions at large scale meat production facilities. In fact, there is no excuse for anything short of reverence for the animals that serve us. Lou and Bill and every other creature that provides our nourishment – either directly or indirectly – should be treated with the utmost respect. And when the time comes to end their lives, as it inevitably will, they deserve our deepest gratitude and the most humane slaughter we can provide.

Rural Vermont has long stood for a community-based food system that honors all its participants, including farmers, consumers, animals, and the environment. Rural Vermont also stands with Green Mountain College and the thousands of other Vermont farmers who acknowledge the sometimes difficult realities of creating and maintaining healthy food systems and who provide for their animals in a manner that honors their critical role in our nourishment.

Rural Vermont Board of Directors and Staff


BOARD:                                                                                                STAFF:

John Pollard – Shrewsbury                                           Andrea Stander – Montpelier

Lisa McCrory – Randolph                                               Shelby Girard – Brookfield

Ben Hewitt – Cabot                                                          Robb Kidd – Montpelier

Carl B. Russell – Randolph                                             Mollie Wills – Middlesex

Doug Flack – Enosburg Falls

Tamara Martin – South Wheelock

Randy & Lisa Robar – South Royalton

Dexter Randall – Newport Center