In response to the state of Vermont’s criminal charges of involuntary manslaughter, a criminal charge that could carry up to a 15-year prison sentence, against Craig Mosher, the owner of a Scottish Highlander bull that escaped its pasture when a tree caused a fence failure, leading to a tragic car crash and the death of Jon Bellis, as well as injuries to his wife, on July 31, 2015, Rural Vermont has issued the following statement:
First and foremost, Rural Vermont wishes to express its deepest condolences to the family of Mr. Jon Bellis for their tragic and unexpected loss. As an advocacy organization representing the interests of Vermont’s community of family farmers and citizens dedicated to preserving traditional Vermont values of community-based agriculture and the food system it supports, however, Rural Vermont is very concerned with the criminal charges against Mr. Mosher. These charges do not appear to involve facts that would support a finding of intentional wrongdoing or recklessly dangerous livestock practices.
Rural Vermont recognizes that every Vermonter who cares for animals on their property—whether they’re a farmer or not—has a solemn responsibility to both protect the wellbeing of his or her animals and to prevent those animals from endangering the surrounding community by maintaining good fencing and using sound farming practices. At the same time, we also recognize that accidents happen, that animals can and do act of their own accord, and that sometimes the reason an animal has escaped or where it is cannot be immediately discovered.
For centuries, domestic animals have been a part of Vermont’s working landscape, woven into our state’s cultural traditions and rural economy. Vermont is still an agricultural state with a continuing tradition of farms existing within their communities, near roads and residences. Even as industrialized agriculture has led to the consolidation of farms, countless Vermont farmers have remained committed to feeding themselves and their communities with pastured animals by utilizing rotational grazing, practices which have proven benefits to local economies, our environment, and human and animal health.
Prosecuting farmers for the acts of their animals, without evidence of intentional wrongdoing or recklessly dangerous practices, sends the wrong message to Vermonters and creates the threat of increased liability that will have a chilling effect on farmers and the practice of agriculture, especially the type of pasture-based agriculture that the state should be supporting and promoting.
Justice is not served by criminalizing mistakes or oversights, particularly when farm animals with minds and wills of their own are involved, or as in this case, when the accident was caused by an act of nature.
While Rural Vermont respects the authority of the Rutland County State’s Attorney, we will be closely monitoring this case and speaking out where necessary to represent the rights and concerns of farmers in Vermont.
Andrew Bahrenburg on behalf of Rural Vermont
Rural Vermont questions criminal charges against Mosher