College: Help needed to defend against threats from activists
MONTPELIER -- Officials with the Vermont college that was targeted by animal rights activists over its decision to slaughter two oxen told a legislative committee that resources are needed for farms and other businesses to deal with potential online threats from activists.
Green Mountain College officials and students testified before the House Agriculture Committee on Tuesday about the ordeal that ensued this fall after the school decided in a public forum to slaughter two retired oxen from the college's farm and use the meat in its dining hall.
The uproar began after VINE Sanctuary, based in Springfield, Vt., offered a home for the animals and urged followers to contact Green Mountain College officials and ask them to reconsider their decision. VINE stands for Veganism is the Nest Evolution.
Critics signed online petitions, other groups got involved and followers sent millions of emails from around the world -- some of them threatening and vitriolic -- to try to spare the animals, school officials said, displaying some of the messages to the committee. Groups opposed to the school's decision put it under surveillance, with photos of the campus and video appearing online, officials said.
Area slaughterhouses in Vermont, New York and New Hampshire were threatened, preventing the small liberal arts college from finding a place to butcher them, the school said.
"Students felt threatened. I felt threatened," said Philip Ackerman-Leist, head of the school's Farm and Food Project.
He has proposed setting up a rapid response team that includes a respected veterinarian, a social media expert, a lawyer and representatives from nonprofit groups to help others -- colleges, farms or businesses -- if they come under such an attack.
"We needed support. We needed help from other organizations," said Ackerman-Leist, who said the Vermont Agency of Agriculture and Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross were a big help.
VINE's coordinator has said the effort took off far beyond what the group expected and the group itself has been threatened but it has never endorsed violent language.
The college eventually euthanized the injured ox and decided to keep the other ox at the farm.
Baylee Drown, the assistant manager of the college's farm, asked legislators on Tuesday to consider some sort of recourse for the businesses that are interrupted by the activities of activists.
"I want to encourage you to make some sort of an avenue for us to defend ourselves so that we do not feel powerless, and possibly a task force would be wonderful so there's some sort of response," she said.
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