The Department of Agriculture recently announced that tests have confirmed that two of the 125 sheep confiscated from a Vermont farm last year tested positive for an atypical undifferentiated transmissible spongiform encephalopathy of foreign origin.
The flock of 125 sheep was confiscated in March 2001 after four related animals from another flock tested positive for TSE in July 2000. All the sheep were the progeny of 65 sheep imported from Belgium and the Netherlands in 1996.
"These tests confirm our previous conclusions were correct and that we took the appropriate preventative actions in confiscating these animals," said Bobby Acord, administrator of the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. "USDA's actions to confiscate, sample, and destroy these sheep were on target. As a result of our vigilance, none of these animals entered the animal or human food supply."
The agency is conducting additional tests to determine the type of TSE in these sheep. Agency officials said those tests could take two to three years to complete.
Three Vermont flocks, mostly East Friesian milk sheep imported from Belgium and the Netherlands in 1996, were quarantined in 1998 after the European Union's Scientific Steering Committee declared it was highly likely that European sheep had been exposed to BSE-contaminated feed. The sheep had been closely monitored since their arrival in the United States as part of the USDA's scrapie control efforts.
After four sheep from the flocks tested positive for a TSE in July 2000, the USDA took measures to purchase and euthanatize all three flocks. The owner of one flock of 21 sheep sold them to the USDA voluntarily; however, owners of the other two flocks—which, combined, totaled more than 350 sheep—took legal action to stop the USDA.
A federal court judge ruled in favor of the USDA, and the Second Circuit Court denied the flock owners' appeal for a stay. In March 2001, the USDA confiscated the sheep and transported them to the agency's National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa where they were euthanatized and tissues samples were collected.
"Our goal continues to be to prevent, detect, and eradicate foreign animal diseases to protect American agriculture, natural resources, and consumers," Acord said. "We will continue to utilize the scientific results of these and other tests conducted during the last several years to strengthen our extensive surveillance, monitoring and prevention efforts."
For more information, visit www.aphis.usda.gov/oa/tse/index.html.