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Letters to the Editor


Published April 21, 2010 at 8:28 a.m.

Leaf It Alone

No mountains, no Vermont [“What’s Wrong With the Vermont State Flag? Almost Everything, According to an Amateur Vexillologist,” April 14]. These designs might make it a good flag for the forestry department at UVM, but Vermont is more than this and needs better than this. I applaud your effort, truly, but don’t change for change’s sake; much more thought and input is needed. And the leaf? Yikes. Do we need any more suggestions that we are still hankerin’ to be part of Canada?

Diane Goodrich


Doctor’s Orders

Several errors in the “Potty Time” article by Alice Levitt [“Side Dishes,” April 14] could have been avoided by calling the Vermont Department of Health to verify facts before publication. Most notably, it was our medical director, Donald Swartz, MD, who participated in legislative discussions on the issue in March, not January. Our chief medical examiner, who performs medical death investigations, was not involved in these discussions.

The requirement that a food establishment provide one toilet and one hand sink for up to 25 seats is not random, arbitrary or especially strict. Vermont’s regulation, which has been in place since 1976 and is consistent with other related regulations such as the state plumbing code, is well within the range of the similar requirements in other states. New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut have toilet requirements for food-service establishments that are stricter than Vermont’s. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires employers to provide one toilet for every 15 employees, two toilets for 16-35 employees and three toilets for 36-55 employees. Restroom requirements assure adequate toilet and hand-washing facilities are available for patrons and employees. Effective hand washing is one of the most important ways to prevent the spread of food-borne illness and infectious disease.

We appreciate Seven Days’ coverage of public health issues, and we stand ready to provide fast, accurate and credible information upon request.

Austin Sumner, MD


Sumner is state epidemiologist for environmental health at the ?Vermont Department of Health.

Bad Taste

The conclusion of Alice Levitt’s portion of “Dueling Diets” [April 7] sorely disappointed with its flippant suggestion that the government replace food stamps with Big Lots stores. These casually thoughtless comments reinforce multiple negative connotations attached to receiving food assistance. If the author had her way, she would limit the more than 10 percent of Vermonters receiving food benefits to a diet of sugary cereals, sodium-laced noodle cups and Spam. It’s ironic that in the same breath Levitt explains her choice to continue buying produce from the supermarket, she condemns low-income Vermonters to canned meats and veggies.

In fact, rather than limiting choices, we should do more to make healthy, affordable food available to Vermonters of all income levels. More needs to be done to enroll the thousands of Vermonters who need and are eligible for food-assistance programs, yet haven’t signed up or don’t know how to access help. On the federal and state level, much has been done on both of these fronts, as well as to reduce the stigma of accepting food benefits. From moving to electronic benefits rather than actual food stamps, to changing the name of Vermont’s food-stamp program, and allowing the use of benefits at farmers markets, food-assistance options are more socially accepted and healthier than ever before.

This article was a missed opportunity that affirmed tired stereotypes and undermined the successes Vermont has made in modernizing its food programs.

Chris Saunders


“Stuck” on Pine Street

I loved the most recent “Stuck in Vermont: Speaking Volumes” [April 14]. My wife and I stumbled upon the Barge Canal Market last weekend while looking at furniture across the street. We were minutes too late: The doors were open when we arrived at the furniture store, closed when we left. We’ll be back.

As the owner of a small soup-to-nuts bookstore in Northfield, and a lifelong browser in record stores, I can’t help but hope that I’ll see more stories in Seven Days about some of the lesser-known community bookstores and independent record stores in Vermont. I’m lucky to live in Montpelier, where four bookstores coexist within a two-block radius. But the pressures on local bookstores and record stores are unprecedented, and many are having a tough time. You may be aware that Riverwalk Records just shut down its Montpelier store.

You folks do a nice job of covering local authors, publishers and musicians; more stories like the “Stuck in Vermont” about Norbert Ender’s Pine Street refuge will help Vermonters remain aware of the stores, often in their backyards, where they can kind find these folks’ work, and many other gems as well.

Gerard Holmes


Holmes co-owns the Northfield Bookstore with his wife.

Whither Cheap Maple?

We ran out of maple syrup last week, so we “ran out” and bought some directly from a producer in Williston. We used www.vermontmaple.org to locate some close-by, year-round sugarhouses by clicking on Chittenden County and found six. One link didn’t work, and they had no phone. One was the Inn at Essex — hmm, that sure didn’t sound promising. Checked out two farmers in Williston and found both their prices were $45, which they said they hadn’t increased in two years. Out of curiosity, I clicked through to Shelburne Farms’ store and my jaw dropped. One jug: $55. Oh, wait … they don’t have gallons — that’s for a half gallon. Or, to do the easy math for you: $110 per gallon!

My point in all this is Kirk Kardashian’s factoid that the average price of a Vermont gallon is “nearly $40 today” seems awfully low [“Maple Sugar Rush,” April 14]. If that’s true, and if we drop off the outlier Shelburne Farms and use the two $45/galloners here in Williston for our calculation, then to get to that average I should be able to find a couple of retailers somewhere in Vermont selling theirs for under $35. I’m not one to balk at paying a slight premium price to support local farmers, but I’m also into saving money, especially on sweets!

Send me the Google directions to those $35-per-gallon producer-sellers!

Gregory EplerWood


Reporter’s note: Our info came from 2009 USDA data that claims the average price for a gallon in Vermont was $39.20 in 2008. This is the average across retail, wholesale and bulk. Vermont’s average is lower than most states, because the state sells a lot of bulk.

Slaughter Fodder

Who regulates Vermont slaughterhouses? Some require both state and federal inspectors on the premises during “processing.” So what went wrong at Bushway Packing in Grand Isle, where Humane Society workers managed to shoot a video of seemingly routine animal abuse? Seven Days readers respond to Andy Bromage’s original March 24 story about the slaughterhouse, “Emails Suggest Vermont Meat Inspector Knew About Bushway Abuse,” and also a March 31 letter from state meat inspector Randy Quenneville.

Ever since Bushway Packing’s horrific animal abuse was exposed by the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS), the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAAFM) has denied knowledge and responsibility, and blamed everyone who did take action. They continue to blame HSUS, Dr. Wyatt and now Senator Giard (D-Addison), who are the only ones who did take action. How about blaming the abusers, and taking some responsibility for this?

Of course the state knew about the inhumane handling and food-safety violations that resulted in plant shutdowns in May, June and July 2009 when they occurred, because a state inspector was assigned as the inspector in charge at Bushway during those months.

It is incomprehensible that VAAFM took no action when they knew that the plant was shut down for the same, repeat violation in three successive months. VAAFM also knew that when Dr. Wyatt was no longer at the plant, the inhumane handling violations stopped being reported. Did they think that, all of a sudden, Bushway Packing saw the light? It took an HSUS undercover investigation to force VAAFM to act.

To risk Vermont’s food safety and allow animal abuse to continue in this manner is negligent. They need to stop making excuses and blaming others, admit their culpability in this fiasco, and come up with a corrective action plan that protects Vermont farmers, businesses, animals and consumers from the lasting damage that has been done to the reputation of our state, to the Vermont brand, and to our agricultural businesses.

Deborah Loring


At first blush, a bill to create a livestock care standards advisory council sounds like a positive step, especially after the repeated shutdowns of the Bushway slaughterhouse due to documented cruelty to animals. But, sadly, a closer read reveals that this bill, like similar bills introduced across the country, is really just an attempt by agricultural interests to “circle the wagons” against true reform.

The makeup of the council is very heavily weighted with industry representatives involved in the breeding, selling and slaughter of livestock. With the interests of their own businesses at stake, one must wonder whether standards and practices that result from such a council would adequately address issues of animal welfare in the recommendations that might come out of such an effort.

The inhumane slaughter of days-old calves has created a large and lasting blemish on Vermont’s image. Please let your legislators know if you share similar concerns for the reputation of Vermont-based products and the welfare of the animals that are raised and sent to slaughter in our state. Ask them to vote “No” on H.767.

Sharon MacNair


MacNair is president of Green Mountain Animal Defenders.

Here is information Vermont’s legislators and taxpayers need to know: Of all Vermont slaughterhouses, only two are full-time, strictly state-inspected facilities — one for red meat, one for quail. Others are either part-time, or combination federal- and state-inspected plants. Forty U.S. states do not use a state meat-inspection program. Why not? Such programs are very expensive for states to maintain. The sign at Bushway says “Vermont State Inspected.” The fact is, Bushway had only a federal grant of inspection. There was a USDA supervisory public health veterinarian on site. (This SPHV issued three suspensions in 2009 for inhumane treatment. He was then temporarily replaced by the inspector seen on the HSUS video, who was terminated.) There was also a Vermont state inspector on site. Simply put, Vermonters are paying 50 percent of the state inspector’s salary to do a federal job! If the state dropped its program, the USDA would be required to provide 100 percent of inspections to all plants, at no cost to Vermont taxpayers.

Equally disturbing is that Vermont’s meat-inspection officials knew of the three suspensions for inhumane treatment of calves when they occurred, and chose to do nothing until the HSUS video became public. This illustrates another serious flaw in the state’s meat-inspection program. This is a very sad case in our history, and one we cannot allow to happen again. Vermont needs to wake up and take a comprehensive look at our meat-inspection program. Either fix it or get rid of it.

Katherine A. Collins


I am writing in response to the Bushway abuse article and the letter to the editor response written by state meat inspector Randy Quenneville.

The criticism of Dr. Wyatt’s and the HSUS’ findings stated by Mr. Quenneville is clearly designed to quiet the voice that needs to be heard. Dr. Wyatt is the voice of the animals; those who are unable to speak for themselves. It is his job and responsibility to report abuse. Quenneville’s remarks referring to Dr. Wyatt as a coward and liar appeared to be retaliatory and defensive... We should ask ourselves, why would a man claiming no knowledge of these atrocities need to resort to such unprofessional verbiage? Perhaps it is projection?

The abuse witnessed by Dr. Wyatt and the undercover video made by the HSUS depicted outrageous behavior and it needs be prosecuted as such. Bushway has been closed three times for the abuse in the past year; this should be an indicator that they are unable or unwilling to adhere to the laws set to protect these animals, and they should not be allowed to reopen.

Mary Alexander


All I want to say on this matter is that the state’s attorney needs to step up and file charges. What is the holdup? If these men were accused of drunk driving or shoplifting, they would have been prosecuted by now. But, I guess because it is just poor, defenseless animals, it doesn’t matter enough. All the respectable farmers in Vermont should be appalled. This is not how we want to be seen by the rest of the world. Do the right thing. Shut this place down and prosecute those evil men. Kudos to Seven Days for being brave enough to discuss this matter…

Elizabeth White


Despite the fact that the chief inspector at Bushway Packing was a state employee, I never saw a state supervisor visit that plant. In fact, I supervise three other state inspectors in three other state plants and I can recall seeing a supervisor have a supervisory visit only twice in a year and a half. As a taxpayer in Vermont, I think that is wrong. We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a state meat-inspection program and supervisors need to do the job we pay them to do.

Dean C. Wyatt, DVM


Wyatt is the USDA supervisory public health veterinarian who reported abuse at Bushway Packing in Grand Isle. He corroborated the inhumane treatment shown in the video.

I have been following the Bushway case since the HSUS video surfaced in November 2009, clearly showing egregious abuses of days-old calves. Vermont agricultural officials have said that they didn’t know what was going on. However, the Seven Days article references a “memorandum of interview” by Dr. Dean Wyatt that detailed inhumane treatment of animals at the plant and was transmitted by email to Vermont officials.

As a taxpayer and concerned citizen of Vermont, I am angry to realize that my hard-earned tax dollars are being used to pay for Vermont agricultural officials who are not looking out for the welfare of animals. We entrust them with this responsibility. It matters little if the animals are in a slaughterhouse or a barn — abuse and torture should not be permitted and complacency should not be the norm.

Where is Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell in all of this? Reportedly, an investigation is pending. Though it may be too late for the animals that were tortured and skinned alive. At the very least, criminal charges should be brought and all persons found responsible should be convicted.

Kristen Cameron


I’m writing this letter to address the testimony regarding instances surrounding the Bushway Packing slaughterhouse investigation. On June 24, 2009, abusive handling was witnessed involving the movement of days-old calves from a truck at the aforementioned plant. Undercover HSUS footage has exposed the inhumane handling of these calves as they were moved from the truck to the plant facility. This footage captures a transport driver using the latest in calf-moving techniques to unload the vehicle, throwing the downed calves from the top level of the truck to the cement surface below.

Despite this footage, Frank Perretta, Bushway Packing plant manager, assures us that this technique is not normally exercised as the calf-moving method of choice. Instead, he comforts us all through firsthand testimony, assuring us that the driver never throws the calves off the top level of the truck but instead lowers them by their tails.

What a relief, right? Hanging an 80-pound baby cow by its frangible tail is much more humane … A big thank-you to Frank Perretta for consoling our concerns and informing us that we, as concerned and conscious consumers, have nothing to worry about. Another Bushway “tale.”

Lindsey Deon

South Burlington

Shame on the VAAFM’s chief of meat inspection Randy Quenneville and the chair of Senate Agriculture Committee Senator Sarah Kittell (D-Franklin) for turning a blind eye to the very serious and potentially deadly public health hazard. These state officials are charged with the responsibility of guarding against Vermont’s public food-safety threats. I am referring specifically to the incidences of neglect and noncompliance of federal and state food and safety regulations that were ignored at the Bushway Packing plant in — surprisingly enough — Franklin County

The Bushway Packing plant was notorious for processing downed calves covered in “industrial residue,” aka their own feces. This is known to catalyze the spread of E. coli, a potentially deadly bacteria that can infect the intestinal tract of human beings upon consumption of contaminated meat.

If those whom we entrust with our health and safety disregard, and therefore condone, these egregious acts that put our health and safety at risk, then it’s time for a change in Montpelier.

Pat Cram


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