USDA officials have seized one of two flocks of imported sheep suspected of having a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy.
On March 21, the flock of 233 sheep was removed from the farm of Vermont resident Houghton Freeman. The sheep will be taken to the National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa, where they will be euthanatized and studied. The other flock, owned by Linda and Larry Faillace, had not yet been seized as of press time in late March. USDA representatives said they would inform the Faillaces the night before the seizure, as they did Freeman.
A federal appeals court on March 6 had again cleared the way for the USDA to seize the sheep, denying a stay sought by the owners that would have delayed the slaughter. The court had also ruled that the plaintiffs must file an appeal within two weeks, and the USDA would have another two weeks to respond. However, after the ruling USDA officials said they planned on carrying out the judge's orders and seizing the sheep, rather than waiting for the appeals process to be completed.
The sheep are two of three flocks imported to Vermont from Belgium and the Netherlands in 1996. Under close watch since their arrival as part of the voluntary scrapie eradication program, four of the sheep tested positive for a TSE on July 10, 2000. The USDA has been attempting to acquire them since July 14, when former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman issued an Order of Extraordinary Emergency commanding their destruction.
The owner of one of the flocks sold his sheep to the USDA, but Freeman and the Faillaces filed suit against the agency, claiming the TSE tests it used were flawed. A district judge has twice upheld Glickman's order.