Warren Family Disputes USDA Findings on Seized Sheep

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(Host) The Warren family whose sheep were seized and destroyed by the federal government were paid for their loss this week. But their lawyer says the government has so far failed to prove that the animals were infected with mad cow disease.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Linda and Larry Faillace of Warren are in Washington state this week. So they weren’t at home when the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that two of their sheep tested positive for an illness that could be mad cow disease.

But the tests weren’t conclusive. A government veterinarian says the flock could have been infected with scrapie, a common sheep disease that’s not a threat to human health. Montpelier attorney Davis Buckley represents the Faillaces. He says the government has refused to turn over two previous tests of the sheep:

(Buckley) “If those two tests, which are the USDA’s own preferred method for cattle surveillance, are negative, that’s something we’re entitled to know. But they won’t come forward with that, at least not yet anyway.”

(Dillon) Buckley says the USDA didn’t tell the Faillaces about the latest test results, either. Instead, the news was disclosed to the media in a conference call.

Right before the announcement, the Faillaces finally were paid for the 125 sheep that were seized a year ago. The flock included valuable East Friesian dairy sheep that were originally imported from Belgium.

(Buckley) “We received a check in the mail out of the blue that represents about $1,300 bucks a sheep for the East Friesians, which we had sold prior to the seizure for amounts of about $5,500 per head.”

(Dillon) The government is planning to do more tests. Buckley says it’s unlikely the animals had mad cow disease since it shows up in older animals. The two rams that the government says were infected were born in 1999 and 2000.

The USDA is planning to infect mice with a sample of the diseased tissue, in order to identify the exact strain. Buckley says these tests should have been done years ago.

(Buckley) “Only in that way will we be able to know if there’s anything more than an apparition here motivating the USDA. And unfortunately, four years, two flocks and the complete destruction of our clients business later, somebody is finally getting around to the only test that will answer this question posed by the USDA. It’s very frustrating.”

(Dillon) The government maintains that the sheep had to be destroyed last year to prevent the possibility of mad cow disease taking hold in this country. The USDA is also testing another flock that was seized last year from a farm in Greensboro.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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