Vermont sheep arrive at Iowa lab to be tested for brain disease

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Mar 22, 2001 - 10:44 PM

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Vermont Sheep Arrive at Iowa Lab to Be Tested for Brain Disease

By Valliant G. Corley, Associated Press Writer

AMES, Iowa (AP) - A flock of sheep the government fears may carry a variant of mad cow disease arrived Thursday at the nation's premier veterinary laboratory, where they will be killed and their brains tested.

"It is extremely critical that we have an accurate diagnosis of the disease," said Dr. William Buisch, acting director of the National Veterinary Services Laboratory. "We want to be sure that they were not carrying any disease agent that might be of concern to our public, to the safety of the food that we eat in this country," he said.

The Agriculture Department seized the 234 sheep Wednesday from a farm in Vermont and transported them in two ventilated trucks under police escort. A second flock also thought to carry the disease will be rounded up Friday, the flock owner said.

Agriculture Department spokesman Ed Curlett said Wednesday's seizure was the first of any cow or sheep in the United States suspected of having an illness related to mad cow disease.

The USDA has said four dead sheep from the flock showed signs of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, a class of neurological diseases that includes bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, and scrapie, a sheep disease not harmful to humans.

The earlier tests could not confirm whether the sheep have BSE, so further testing was arranged at the laboratory in Ames. Farmers who owned both flocks had sought court orders to prevent the USDA from seizing the animals, saying no tests conclusively found the sheep carried BSE, but those efforts failed.

There have been no confirmed cases of mad cow disease in the United States, although the disease has decimated the livestock industry in parts of Europe.

The human version of BSE has killed almost 100 people in Britain and other European countries since 1995. It is thought to be transmitted to humans through eating meat of diseased animals, and to have an incubation period of 10 to 20 years.

The Vermont sheep are highly unusual and valuable East Friesians. They were not being raised for their wool or their meat, but for their rich milk, used in making exotic cheeses.

Both flocks were purchased in the Netherlands and Belgium before a ban was imposed in 1996 to protect U.S. sheep from mad cow disease.

On the Net:

USDA: http://www.aphis.usda.gov

USDA on Vermont sheep: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/oa/pubs/qavtshee.pdf

AP-ES-03-22-01 2244EST

Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

-- Swissrose (cellier3@mindspring.com), March 23, 2001


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