#7 Behind the Color Red

7 years ago, in 2009, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture suspended the operations of Bushway Packing’s veal plant in Grand Isle, Vermont. The slaughter house was criminally investigated after footage, released by the Humane Society of the United States, revealed day old calves, barely able to stand, subjected to being kicked, slapped, and repeatedly electrocuted. The Bushway Packing plant has plans to reopen.

Vermont is notorious for it’s dairy industry, but very few know what can happens behind it’s painted barn walls.

Only female heifers produce milk, and pregnancy is a prerequisite of lactation. This means that male calves don’t figure into the dairy process. 60,000 Vermont bulls are shipped out of state to be slaughtered days after their birth, leaving Vermont to be one of the biggest producers of veal in the country. In the few days before their deaths, the newborn calves are unable to move freely, are fed only milk, and face disturbing levels of emotional distress. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Mercy for Animals and the Humane Society of the United States, leading animal rights advocacy organizations, have worked for years to improve the rights of veal calves by campaigning for the ban of veal crates, and consistently face a strong wall of opposition from farm owners. Being involved with the 4-h at Shelburne Farms, I have seen dozens of baby cows, disappear days after their birth, only to learn that they were slaughtered weeks later.

The debate between animal rights activists and farmers and their advocates follows two main arguments, which are summarized in several principal documents. Animal rights activists argue on behalf of the Five Freedoms, which encourage freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom from pain, injury or disease, freedom to express normal behavior, and freedom from fear and distress. The European Union has been successful in improving the lives of farm animals, and has outlawed veal crates, using the Five Freedoms as a decision making model.

In 2012, The Livestock Care Standards Advisory Council, the committee responsible for reviewing bills specific to Animal Rights, issued a series of position statements which explained their opposition to propositions that would ban tail docking, and swine gestation crates, as attempts to improve the farming industry. The issued statement, S. 107, which required that veterinarians must be the only administrators of tail docking, prohibits importation of a farm animal with a docked tail, and fines violators, did not leave committee based on the Livestock Care Standards Advisory Council’s belief that this regulation would have an negative impact on local farms. As feedback to concerns surrounding the treatment of sows placed in gestation cages, confinements that prohibit the movement of pregnant sows, the council advised that though the demand for humanely produced pork is steadily increasing in Vermont, it is difficult for farmers to afford more humane practices, and once again, the bill was vetoed.

The amount of harm that a single person could inflict on an animal, in many cases seemingly without remorse, derives a level of revulsion that many aren’t able to comprehend, and face the truth that even Vermont, a state idolized for it’s beauty, contains terrible ugliness. This self proclaimed ignorance, leads to the death of thousands of baby cows, and the abuse of hundreds of pigs and chickens each year, hidden in a state that is inaccurately famous for it’s humane farming industry. Instead of devoting our time and energy into hiding from the mistreatment of animals, and protecting the farmers that sell the lives of their newborn bulls, we need to begin working as a state, to raise awareness about the origin of dairy products, and take the first few steps to improving the lives of Vermont livestock. Many dairy farms have sought humane practices that allow their bulls to grow older, and face a economically successful outcome. If we raise awareness about the origin of dairy products, based on a foundation of truth and passion, it is ensured that some form of change is bound to happen.

Among footage from the Bushway Packing plant, Christopher Gaudette, the Bushway employee who faces a serious felony animal cruelty charge, was involved in three incidents Dr. Ata Chaundhry, a U.S. Department of Agriculture veterinarian medical specialist based in Albany deemed “egregious.” In the most shocking instance, filmed on September 15, 2009, Gaudette is shown shocking a downed calf 11 times until the calf gets up. “Gaudette then shocks another calf eight more times, then picks up and drops the calf and then shocks it five more times,” court papers read.

Three months ago, the Obama Administration made a final rule banning the slaughter of downer cows and calves, an expression that describes an animal that is either to injured or to sick to stand. This pro-animal rule making now encourages farmers to more thoroughly protect the well-being of their animals, just another steps towards a livable life for Vermont livestock, proving once again, that it is possible to improve the lives of our farm animals.


Here is a link to my presentation: https://docs.google.com/a/cssu.org/presentation/d/1a2SkUOGJxqA-FRea0tqvQff31iAW1oJYsGlhcRZL8DQ/edit?usp=sharing


Featured Photo: Peters, Mark. “Poplar Springs Animal Sanctuary”. November 2, 2014

ASPCA. “About Us”. http://www.aspca.org/about-us

Humane Society of the United States. “Abused Calves at Vermont Slaughter Plant”. October 30, 2009.

Humane Society of the United States. “Breaking News: Obama Administration closes loophole and forbids slaughtering downer calves”. July 13, 2016.

Humane Society of the United States. “Proposed USDA Rule Would Ban Slaughter of Sick, Injured Calves”.  May 8, 2015

Mercy for Animals. “About Mercy for Animals; Our Approach”. http://www.mercyforanimals.org/about

PETA. “About PETA; Our Mission Statement”. http://www.peta.org/about-peta/

Seven Days. “Bushway Owner Charged With Animal Cruelty”. June 4, 2010

Seven Days. “The Veal Deal”. http://www.sevendaysvt.com/vermont/the-veal-deal/Content?oid=2135007


Lena Ashooh

5 Responses to “#7 Behind the Color Red

  • Bob Uhl
    6 years ago


    It’s been a delight watching you build a case around your topic for the past month-and-a-half. In keeping with the directions for this post, you’ve provided a solid basis for a pitch that I look forward to hearing at our first overnight! I’m seeing a well-organized synthesis of your previous entries, and your passion for this issue really shines through. On top of that, your argument appeals both to emotions and reason. Most of all, I love your delivery of the line “hidden in a state that is inaccurately famous for it’s humane farming industry.” You frame your story here as a corrective to a popular but misleading narrative. Well done!

    • Mr. Uhl,

      Thank you for the encouragement! It has definitely been interesting to learn how to develop, and refine a general subject, into something that genuinely interests me. I also am curious to see the presentations at the retreat, and what subjects people express interest in.

      I’m excited to continue working on my pitch!


  • Bob Uhl
    6 years ago

    Oh, one more thing! When you can, Lena, would you change the share settings for your slides so that anyone with the link can view it? As of now I’m unable to access it. Thanks!

  • Great post, Lena!

    You seem so, so passionate about this issue which is awesome! While reading this, I began to wonder why owners of these animals are mistreating them in the first place. I understand how farmers who don’t have a lot of money might lack resources to make their practices more humane, but why are farmers acting cruel towards animals and “downing a calf 11 times” when they have no reason to? You may be as unclear on this as I am, it’s just something to think about.

    Also, my aunt works at a humane society in Mass. and is extremely knowledgeable about animal rights. She focuses more on domestic animals than farm animals, but I could put you in touch with her if you’d like.

    Great work!!


    • Hi Ella!

      Thanks for the response! I am also unclear on why animal abuse occurs, but I definitely don’t want to frame my presentation with farmers as the “bad guys”.

      It would be great to talk to your Aunt! I would definitely be curious to see what she has to say about abuse on farms!


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