Sheep Seized for Possible Mad Cow Disease

By George Grow

This is the VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT.

United States government agents seized more than three-hundred sheep from two farms in the state of Vermont last month. It was the first time American federal officials seized farm animals suspected of having a form of Mad Cow Disease.

The sheep were taken to a government laboratory in Iowa where they were destroyed. Tissue from the animals will be tested for the disease. The action comes one year after the Agriculture Department said tests showed several of the sheep might have the disease.

Mad Cow Disease is also called Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or B-S-E. B-S-E causes holes in the brain. The disease was first found in cows in Britain almost twenty years ago.

In humans, the rare but deadly disorder is called Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. The disease has killed about one-hundred people in Europe, most of them in Britain. They reportedly ate meat from infected animals.

There has never been a confirmed case of B-S-E in the United States. Three farms in Vermont imported sheep from Belgium and The Netherlands in Nineteen-Ninety-Six. The Agriculture Department said it learned two years later that the sheep might have been given feed infected with B-S-E. Agriculture Department officials asked state officials to closely watch the condition of the animals.

Last year, the Agriculture Department announced plans to seize and destroy the sheep from the three farms. One of the farmers agreed to sell his twenty-one sheep to the Agriculture Department to be destroyed.

However, the other two farmers rejected the plan. They took legal action to block the plan. Lawyers for the farmers questioned the effectiveness of the test the government used to support its order. A federal appeals court ruled that the Agriculture Department was acting within its right. The government has agreed to pay the farmers for the fair market value of the sheep.

A lawyer for one of the farmers called the seizure sad and unnecessary. However, Agriculture Department officials said they had no choice but to act. They said the sheep were a threat to the health of farm animals nationwide.

Activists from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals protested the destruction of the sheep. The group also urged people to stop eating meat.

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

Voice of America Special English