Faillaces Mark Anniversary of Sheep Seizing

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(Host) A year ago, federal agents were in Vermont to seize two flocks of sheep suspected of carrying a form of mad cow disease. The flocks’ owners say they’re still waiting for the government to prove that their animals were sick.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Linda and Larry Faillace are marking an anniversary this week, but it’s not one they celebrate. Last year, armed federal agents seized 325 sheep from two Vermont farms.

The sheep were all killed and their brain tissues sampled to test for transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, or TSE. This family of diseases includes mad cow disease. The mysterious illnesses kill their victims by filling their brains with sponge-like holes.

Linda Faillace, who farms in East Warren, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture should know by now if their animals had the fatal brain disease. But so far, they haven’t heard a word:

(Faillace) “USDA should have preliminary results within six hours. There’s rapid tests. These rapid tests detect a TSE within six hours. That’s how Europe was able to test over four million cattle last year and they’re upping their surveillance this year.

(Dillon) The sheep were seized after a lengthy court battle. The government argued that the sheep had to be killed because four animals from a related flock had shown signs of the disease.

Ed Curlett is spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He says the USDA had all the proof it needed to take the sheep. Curlett says the goal was to protect the health of the U.S. livestock industry:

(Curlett) “We didn’t take the action that we took, which was taking these sheep, to test them. These results, no matter what they are, they’re not going to be a justification for the action that we took. We took that action that we did because four animals did test positive in an associated flock. So we had that risk of exposed animals and to our national herd.”

(Dillon) Curlett says he’s given up predicting when the test results will be complete. He says the government had to hire new people and expand testing facilities to do the work.

The Faillaces are also waiting for the government to reimburse them for the seized sheep. The USDA says it will pay fair market value for each animal. But the Faillaces want to be paid for the value of their entire sheep breeding business, which they put at around $11 million.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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