US Orders Vermont Sheep
Liquidated Over
'Mad Cow' Fears
By Kevin Kelley
EAST WARREN, Vt. (Reuters) - Three Vermont flocks of sheep have been ordered destroyed by U.S. agriculture officials, who say the 376 animals could be carrying mad cow disease.
Owners of the two biggest flocks, however, downplayed that danger Monday and said they deserved millions of dollars for the loss of their livelihood.
The government order, which cannot be appealed, came after tests on four slaughtered animals proved positive for transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, or TSE.
TSE includes scrapie, a disease of sheep not considered a threat to humans, and ``mad cow'' disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), which has been linked to an invariably fatal brain-wasting disease in people known as new-variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. It will take years to determine which disease is involved in the Vermont case, the U.S. Agriculture Department said.
Mad cow disease was first reported in Britain in 1986. The British outbreak may have resulted from feeding cattle sheep-meat-and-bone-meal infected with scrapie.
The Vermont sheep flocks targeted for slaughter were built up with sheep imported from Belgium and the Netherlands in 1996. Two years later, the Agriculture Department learned it was likely that the sheep had been exposed to feed contaminated with mad cow disease while in Europe, and the flocks were quarantined.
But milk from the sheep had been sold, as had cheese made from the milk. ``Some offspring of these these animals were (also) slaughtered for human consumption,'' according to the Agriculture Department, which said it was working with federal and Vermont agencies ``to determine if there are any associated human health concerns.''
No Mad Cow Cases In U.S.
No cases of mad cow disease have been diagnosed in the United States, but as a precaution, the Food and Drug Administration banned most uses of mammal proteins in feed for cows, sheep, goats and other ruminant animals in June 1997.
The Agriculture Department officials said one Vermont sheep farmer, with 21 animals, had accepted the government's decision and had agreed to the payment of whatever compensation it thought appropriate. But two flocks, totaling 355 animals, were being destroyed over the owners' objections, the officials noted.
One of the protesting owners, Larry Faillace, who holds a doctoral degree in animal physiology, described tests like those performed on the slaughtered sheep as unreliable.
And the other farmer, Houghton Freeman, maintained that ''the chances of someone getting sick from these sheep are the same as being hit by an asteroid on your front porch.''
But department spokesman Andy Solomon said: ``It is necessary for us to act with an abundance of caution. The potential impact of any strain of TSE making its way through American livestock could be very costly.''
The Agriculture Department has asked independent appraisers to determine the fair market value of the sheep so compensation can be paid before their destruction and incineration.
Faillace suggested he should get $11.3 million, which he calculated as the total worth of his business. He termed his imported East Frisian dairy sheep ``irreplaceable in the United States'' and said his livelihood would be ruined by the government action.
Freeman also said he should be paid ``millions of dollars'' in compensation for his investments.

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