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Vt. Sheep Owners Try Saving Flock

July 19, 2000

EAST WARREN, Vt. (AP) _ The owners of two flocks of imported sheep went to court Wednesday to try to keep the government from destroying the animals out of fear they are infected with a form of mad cow disease.

A total of 276 sheep are scheduled to be removed from three Vermont farms by Friday, and their carcasses will be incinerated.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture ordered the sheep destroyed because tests on four animals detected a brain abnormality that could be a form of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease. An outbreak of mad cow disease in Britain in 1995 devastated that nation’s beef industry and killed about 50 people.

Owners Houghton Freeman of Stowe and Larry and Linda Faillace of East Warren filed requests Wednesday in federal court in Burlington, arguing that no sheep outside a laboratory has ever contracted the disease.

The owners of a third farm, in Lyndonville, have agreed to sell their flock to the government to be destroyed.

The sheep, a breed called East Friesians, have been quarantined since 1998, two years after the first of them arrived from Belgium.

The sheep came from an area of Belgium where BSE has been found. The disease is spread when animals eat feed made from the brains of infected animals, and the USDA said there is a possibility the imported sheep ate contaminated feed before they were imported.

The sheep were imported for their milk production. The farmers have been allowed to sell cheese made from the animals’ milk, but on Tuesday the state Health Department recommended that people not eat the cheese.

Members of Vermont’s congressional delegation issued a statement Wednesday supporting the decision to destroy the sheep.

``Our sympathies lie with these owners, but where the public health is concerned, safety must be the bottom line,″ said the statement signed by Sens. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, and James Jeffords, a Republican, and independent Rep. Bernard Sanders.

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