USDA removes sheep from Vermont farms

MONTPELIER, Vt. – Following months of court challenges, the USDA last week removed two flocks of quarantined sheep in Vermont.

The 360 sheep were transported to USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa, where they were euthanized. Tissue samples will be collected from the sheep for diagnostic testing.

The sheep, imported from Belgium and the Netherlands in 1996, were placed under certain federal restrictions when they entered the country.

In 1998, USDA learned that it was likely that sheep from Europe were exposed to feed contaminated with bovine spongiform encephalopathy. At that time, the state of Vermont imposed a quarantine on these flocks, which prohibited slaughter or sale for breeding purposes.

On July 10, 2000, several sheep from the flocks tested positive for an undifferentiated transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, a class of degenerative neurological diseases. Two of the better known varieties of TSE are BSE, or mad cow disease, in cattle and scrapie in sheep.

Court battle.

Four days later, USDA issued a declaration of extraordinary emergency to acquire the sheep, which was contested by the flock owners. A federal district court judge ruled in favor of USDA based on the merits of the case.

The flock owners appealed to the Second Circuit Court requesting a stay, which was denied.

The owners will be compensated for the fair market value of the sheep.

“While we understand this is a very difficult time for the flock owners, USDA has no choice but to take this decisive action based on the threat the sheep pose to the health of America’s livestock nationwide,” said Craig Reed, administrator of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

“The current BSE situation highlights USDA’s important role in safeguarding America’s livestock from such devastating foreign animal diseases.”

The United States has never had a confirmed case of BSE.

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