Protesters deny more serious risk


Like the Doors’ song goes, people are strange.

Even with the news accounts filled with reports of Great Britain and Europe destroying cattle due to foot-and-mouth disease and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease), a crowd in Vermont protested the USDA’s plan to euthanize two flocks of sheep believed infected with scrapie and possibly exposed to mad cow disease.

One news wire reports the crowd chanting, “Hey, hey, USDA, how many farms did you wreck today?”

The protest was in support of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision to postpone the killing of 350 sheep. The federal appeals court will decide March 6 whether to hold a hearing on the matter.

But had the United States not stepped forward with such determination and risked an outbreak of mad cow disease, no doubt future protesters would be chanting slogans against meat and the USDA for its lack of consumer protection.

The USDA’s protective steps, which seem harsh to the outsider, are necessary. The Vermont flock situation is not just about scrapie, which is similar to mad cow disease in that it attacks a sheep or goat’s central nervous system. Several of these sheep, which were imported from Belgium in 1996, tested positive last July for scrapie, but that’s not the only reason for the USDA’s action.

In 1998, the European Union’s Scientific Steering Committee stated that it is highly likely that European sheep were exposed to feed contaminated with the BSE agent. After the USDA quarantined the three Vermont flocks, it found out that the flocks in Belgium where the sheep originated were fed concentrates prepared at local mills. According to the USDA, experts agree this practice is the most likely route of BSE exposure for the infected cattle in Belgium.

The USDA doesn’t know if the agent affecting these flocks is BSE or scrapie, and sheep infected with BSE show the same signs as scrapie. BSE can only be differentiated from scrapie through a series of tests that can take two to three years.

BSE in sheep is different than scrapie in sheep. BSE in sheep can spread from animal to animal (BSE in cattle is spread primarily through feed contamination).

The USDA is not willing to risk its current fight against mad cow disease on the chance that these sheep merely have scrapie, and not BSE. Nor should it.

Send the protesters to Great Britain or any of the European countries that have slaughtered thousands of animals to stop the spread of this devastating disease. Would they rather see that happening within our borders?

I will back the USDA’s decision any day.


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