Mad Cow Disease in Sheep

By George Grow

This is Ray Freeman with the VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT.

Two farmers have asked a federal judge in the American state of Vermont to stop a government order to destroy three-hundred-fifty-five sheep. The United States Department of Agriculture approved the order after it said tests showed four sheep may have the sheep version of mad cow disease. Agriculture Department officials say their plan is designed to protect American farm animals.

Lawyers for the farmers question the effectiveness of the test the government used to support its order. The judge has called a hearing this week to study the issue.

Since the Nineteen-Eighties, an estimated one-hundred-eighty-thousand cows in Europe have been infected with mad cow disease. In Britain, more than fifty people died, reportedly after eating meat from infected animals.

Mad Cow Disease is also called Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or BSE. The disease causes holes in the brain. In humans, the rare but deadly disorder is called Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. The three Vermont farms imported sheep from Belgium and The Netherlands in Nineteen-Ninety-Six. The Agriculture Department says it learned two years later that the sheep might have been given feed infected with BSE. Agriculture Department officials asked state officials to closely watch the condition of the animals.

Earlier this month, the Agriculture Department announced plans to seize and destroy three-hundred-seventy-six sheep from the farms. The leading American sheep industry trade group said it supports the government's plan of action.

One of the Vermont farmers agreed to sell his twenty-one sheep to the Department of Agriculture to be destroyed. However, the other two farmers rejected the plan. They say their animals show no sign of disease.

The farmers have been permitted to sell cheese products made with milk from the sheep. A few days ago, the Vermont Department of Health urged people not to eat two kinds of cheese made with the sheep milk.

The chief of the Vermont Department of Health is Jan Carney. She said she made the decision after talking with experts at the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She noted that the disease takes a long time to develop and always kills its victims.

This VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT was written by George Grow. This is Ray Freeman.

Voice of America Special English