WASHINGTON — USDA will destroy 376 sheep from three Vermont flocks after four sheep were confirmed positive July 10 for a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE).The euthanasia is required to prevent the possible contamination of other livestock.
USDA is purchasing one flock of 21 sheep and has issued an order to seize two other flocks of 355 sheep. The owners will receive fair market value for their animals.
TSE is a class of degenerative neurological diseases that are characterized by a very long incubation period and a 100 percent mortality rate.
TSEs are not known to be very contagious.
Two of the better known varieties of TSE are bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle and scrapie in sheep. Unlike BSE, there is no evidence that scrapie poses a risk to human health. Further testing, which will take several years, is required to determine which type of TSE has infected these sheep.
The original sheep, imported from Belgium and the Netherlands in 1996, were placed under limited federal restrictions when they entered the country as part of USDA’s voluntary scrapie eradication efforts.
In 1998, USDA learned that it was likely that European sheep were exposed to feed contaminated with BSE. At USDA’s request, the state of Vermont imposed a quarantine on these flocks prohibiting their slaughter or sale for breeding purposes.
Since 1996, USDA has been actively monitoring these flocks for any evidence of TSE.
Milk from these sheep was sold and used to produce cheese that also was sold. While none of the original imported sheep were slaughtered for human consumption, prior to imposition of the quarantine and detection of TSE, some offspring of these animals were slaughtered for human consumption.
USDA is working with other federal agencies and the state of Vermont to determine if there are any associated human health concerns.