Prion Disease
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Vermont sheep get all-clear from England
Carrot-and-stick deal for Vermont sheep
U.S. to kill Vermont sheep over 'mad cow' fears
Cheese seized at farmhouse but left on store shelves
Accereration in nvCJD caseload
Baby food firms deny mad cow risk
Rabies vaccines made in sheep brain
Farm groups assure U.S. consumers meat safe from BSE
BSE waste spread on fields: contamination risk said `negligible'
Test shows 9 of 81 elk at Philipsburg, Montana game farm had CWD

Carrot-and-stick deal for Vermont sheep

18 Jul 00 webmaster opinion and press reports
The USDA is apparently now offering a three-part concessionary carrot on the alleged BSE sheep in Vermont:

-- they will pay $11 million for sheep instead of assessed fair market value (level III biohazard?) stated earlier.

-- they will not kill the dogs and lamas in front of the Faillace's children as threatened earlier.

-- they will not remove the 6 inches of topsoil as announced earlier.

In exchange,

-- no press allowed on the property during the sheep killings

-- owners do not contest or resist the sheep slaughter

-- no disclosure of the deal, no subsequent interviews or release of information.

Will the offer be accepted? We will have to wait and see.

The biggest scientific problem that the USDA faces is that histopathology, immunohistochemistry, and western blot strain-typing are readily available from English laboratories that studied experimentally-induced BSE in sheep. There was ample sample to include these as controls in the studies done on the Vermont sheep and ample time to compare results to those already in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. There was surely willingness on the part of the English to consult because BSE in sheep is a matter of grave concern there as well.

Either the USDA has not done this or the results are inconsistent with a threat of BSE from these sheep. Given that the sheep have been on the ground for 4 years already, would another 4 weeks really matter? Why not get a second opinion from English experts?

Overall, the USDA can be applauded for a strong TSE monitoring and research program and exceptional vigilance in regard to BSE entrenchment in the US. However, these programs cannot succeed with the cooperation and respect of both livestock producers and prion research scientists. In this instance, the agency has simply gone too far, too fast and is now well beyond common sense or what the scientific record warrants. Americans will not support the government coming in to kill farm and companion animals without persuasive scientific documentation of a risk from infectious disease. The weak science disclosed so far would not elicit a scientific consensus on the diagnosis of TSE, much less atypical TSE of foreign origin, much less BSE. It is time to back off and reach a mediated solution that works for all parties.

Sheep and experimental BSE at Medline

Hope J, Wood SC, Birkett CR, Chong A, Bruce ME, Cairns D, Goldmann W, Hunter N, Bostock CJ. 
Molecular analysis of ovine prion protein identifies similarities between BSE and an experimental isolate of natural scrapie, CH1641.
J Gen Virol. 1999 Jan;80 ( Pt 1):1-4.

Baron TG, Madec JY, Calavas D, Richard Y, Barillet F. 
Comparison of French natural scrapie isolates with bovine spongiform encephalopathy and experimental scrapie infected sheep.
Neurosci Lett. 2000 Apr 28;284(3):175-8.

Foster JD, Bruce M, McConnell I, Chree A, Fraser H. 
Detection of BSE infectivity in brain and spleen of experimentally infected sheep.
Vet Rec. 1996 Jun 1;138(22):546-8. 

Madec JY, Vanier A, Dorier A, Bernillon J, Belli P, Baron T. 
Biochemical properties of protease resistant prion protein PrPsc in natural sheep scrapie.
Arch Virol. 1997;142(8):1603-12.

Cutlip RC, Miller JM, Lehmkuhl HD. 
Second passage of a US scrapie agent in cattle.
J Comp Pathol. 1997 Oct;117(3):271-5.

CDC, Vermont DoH: Don't buy their cheese

Press release from the Vermont Department of Health 18 July 00
Contact:Jan Carney, MD, Health Commissioner 802-863-7280.  
Health Precautions Recommended

"Burlington -- On Friday, July 14, the US Dept of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it is acquiring 376 sheep from three VErmont flocks after four sheep were confirmed positive on July 10 for a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy. (TSE).

Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Jan K. Carney has consulted with the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention in Atlanta. CDC recommendts that, as a precaution, people not eat cheese made from the milk of these sheep.

According to the Vermont Department of Agriculture, the cheese can be identified by either the brand name or the plant number on the label:

Three Shepherds of the Mad River Valley
Plant #30-53

Northeast Kindom Sheep Milk Cheese
Plant #50-45

TSE is a class of degenerative neurological disease that are characterized by a very long incubation period and a one hudred percent mortality rate. Two of the better known varieties of TSE are bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle (also known as mad cow disease) and scrapie in sheep. According to USDA, further testing, which will take several years, is required to determine which type of TSE has infected these sheep.

For consumer health questions, call the Vermont Department of Health at 802-863-7240 of 800-640-4374 (Vermont only)"

US Marshalls seize 18 Wheels of Cheese

18 Jul 00 Rutland Herald and Times Argus By Stefan Hard and John Dillon
WARREN -As federal officials prepared to seize and destroy Vermont sheep over their claims the animals harbor a form of mad cow disease, Linda and Larry Faillace are trying to rally public support and fight the government in court.

The Faillaces have set up a phone tree that would summon supporters to their Warren farm within 15 minutes should federal officials arrive to seize the animals.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture official, accompanied by two U.S. Marshals, Monday afternoon served the Faillaces with a seizure order and locked up 18 wheels of cheese produced from the sheep's milk.

The USDA wants to seize the Faillaces' sheep because it claims samples of brain tissue tested from animals in a related herd in Greensboro showed signs of a form of mad cow disease, a mysterious illness that ravaged the British beef industry and led to 53 deaths in the United Kingdom.

The Warren couple was cheered Monday evening by about 60 people who filled the upstairs of the Old Schoolhouse in Warren for a support rally. A large "Save Our Sheep" banner stretched across the front of the Old Schoolhouse and the parking lot overflowed as the Faillaces' supporter, Roger Hussey, moderated an emotional meeting that lasted nearly two hours.

Linda Faillace broke down in tears briefly twice during the meeting when she spoke of the stress on her two daughters the situation has caused. The two girls help take care of the herd and produce cheese from the sheep's milk.

Linda Faillace went on to tell the crowd that "Big Brother" USDA is using "bad science" to indict their herd of sheep for political reasons, partly to protect the U.S. beef industry from suspicion that it may be contaminated with mad cow disease.

Belgian sheep farmer Freddy Michiels supported the Faillaces' theory. He said the USDA seems to be acting irrationally and precipitously in the Faillace case, based on his experience in Belgium where his East Friesian sheep have been tested repeatedly for forms of mad cow disease. Michiels is staying with the Faillaces this week to teach cheesemaking classes, and knows the history of the Faillaces herd. He said the animals pose no danger to the public.

Larry Faillace said the feds are using a new "hypersensitive" test that is "unvalidated" to prove evidence of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, or TSEs. Mad cow disease is a bovine form of TSE, which is always fatal and causes the destruction of brain tissue, leaving sponge-like holes in the brain.

However, Dr. Linda Detwiler, a USDA veterinarian dealing with the Faillace case, said two lab tests have shown the Vermont flock has TSE. She said the tests are scientifically valid and must be taken seriously.

Detwiler said this morning the tests found an abnormal protein used as a marker that indicates a form of TSE. "This is what prompted this action," she said. "We actually had a confirmatory test in these animals."

She said the tests cannot differentiate whether the sheep have a form of scrapie - a fairly common TSE sheep disease - or a version of mad cow disease. "We can say now there is infection (in the animals)," she said. "This marker would indicate an infectious agent in sheep."

About half of Monday's rally was taken up with talk about strategy for blocking a federal seizure of the Faillaces' sheep, which are about a third of all the East Frieisan sheep presently in the U.S. The breed was imported from Belgium before the U.S. imposed a ban on their importation due to fear of TSE. The Faillaces imported the herd just before the ban. Another herd of about 200 sheep owned by Stowe philanthropist Houghton Freeman is also subject to the seizure order.

Both Freeman and the Faillaces have hired lawyers and may soon be seeking an injunction in court to stop the federal seizure of their animals.

Freeman said this morning his lawyer was preparing to fight the seizure order and may seek a court injunction barring the USDA action. "We're trying to buy time," he said.

Freeman said the USDA action is "very mysterious" because the lab tests were not conducted at a regular USDA lab but at a facility on Staten Island hired by Detwiler. "She's been looking and looking and she finally found a clinic in Staten Island that gave her what she wanted," Freeman said.

Freeman's attorney, Thomas Amidon of Stowe, said he will likely use a two-fold argument against the seizure. "We will discuss whether the USDA followed its own rules and regulations, and whether this extraordinary measure is justified given that it is based on results from one test," he said.

The Faillaces' attorney, Ted Joslin of Montpelier, said a larger issue in the case is the possible destruction of "what could be a very valuable business to the whole New England region. There's definitely a market for these type of milking sheep. It's a product that sells at a sensible rate and it could keep alive some of the mountain farms and open land."

The Faillaces are expecting the USDA to show up as early as today with appraisers who would estimate the value of the sheep before their seizure. The Faillaces are concerned that the seizure could come at any hour, and the presence yesterday of two U.S. Marshals at the farm underlines the anticipation of possible confrontation.

There was talk at the rally last night of possibly using forms of civil disobedience such as a human chain around the sheep to prevent their seizure. But most of the discussion focused on ways of using the media to support their Faillaces' cause.

Opinion (webmaster): The effect and intent of all this is to destroy Faillance's cheese business even if they somehow save the flock and agree to further quarantine, ie, bring them to the bargaining table on their knees. We are not talking about cheese from the asymptomatic tested sheep themselves with a controversial TSE diagnosis but from other asymptomatic untested sheep.

USDA is also telling the press that England has long prohibited the sale of milk from asymptomatic dairy cows who may have exposed to BSE. To the webmaster's best knowledge, this is a complete falsehood. Rightly or wrongly, England sold this dairy product throughout the epidemic. The scientific literature has not identified dairy products as infected; however, white blood cells commonly found in milk are certainly of concern.

Where is the level playing field here? Does USDA intend to seize sheep and milk from flocks in all 39 states that have reported scrapie? Is there a program in place to keep meat from scrapie flocks and CWD deer and elk herds out of the human food chain -- 53 years have gone by since the first case? Is CWD also an "atypical" TSE?

Cheese seized at farmhouse but left on store shelves

Wed, 19 Jul 2000 By John Dillon TIMES ARGUS STAFF
WARREN - State health officials are warning the public not to eat cheese made from the milk of sheep the federal government claims are infected with a form of mad cow disease.

Health Commissioner Dr. Jan Carney issued the warning notice Tuesday after consulting with the federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta about the safety of milk from the infected animals.

The Health Department warning is the latest move in an ongoing battle over the fate of 376 sheep on two Vermont farms. The U.S. Department of Agriculture last week announced it would seize and destroy the animals because a test had shown four were infected with a form of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, or TSE.

TSE is a class of degenerative, always fatal, brain diseases that includes mad cow disease, a mysterious ailment that ravaged the British beef industry and led to 53 deaths in the United Kingdom. The USDA is concerned that the Vermont sheep or their forebears were exposed to the disease before they were imported from Europe in the mid-1990s.

Federal officials had maintained until Monday that the cheese made from the Vermont sheep's milk was safe to consume. However, the CDC has now told Carney there is a risk that humans could contract the disease from eating the cheese, she said.

Carney noted, however, that the risk is very slight because studies have not shown that people contracted the illness through eating dairy products during an outbreak of mad cow disease in the United Kingdom.

"The emphasis is on the word precaution," Carney said. The CDC "characterized the risk (of eating the cheese) as theoretical, meaning to date no one has ever become ill from eating milk or milk products from cows exposed" to the disease.

The Health Department warning applies to cheese sold under the name Three Shepherds of the Mad River Valley and Northeast Kingdom Sheep Milk Cheese.

Carney said officials - despite Tuesday's warning - are not ordering the cheese to be taken off store shelves. "As of today, there is no recall," she said. "This is intended as a recommendation for the public."

At the Warren farm where the Three Shepherds cheese is made, owners Larry and Linda Faillace handed out cheese to friends and neighbors Tuesday. The Faillaces maintain the cheese is safe to eat and are considering going to court to block the federal seizure of their flock.

"This (Health Department warning) is just another example of pseudo-science. It's another example of them trying to put us out of business," Linda Faillace said.

In addition to the Warren flock, about 200 sheep owned by Stowe philanthropist Houghton Freeman is also subject to the seizure order and state Health Department warning. Freeman's Greensboro farm produces the Northeast Kingdom Sheep Milk Cheese.

Freeman's attorney, Thomas Amidon of Stowe, said he will likely use a two-fold argument against the seizure. "We will discuss whether the USDA followed its own rules and regulations, and whether this extraordinary measure is justified given that it is based on results from one test," he said.

However, Dr. Linda Detwiler, a USDA veterinarian dealing with the Faillace case, said two lab tests have shown the Greensboro flock has TSE. She said the tests are scientifically valid and must be taken seriously. Both the Warren and Greensboro sheep may have been exposed to TSE through the placenta material at birth, she said.

Detwiler said Tuesday the tests found an abnormal protein used as a marker that indicates a form of TSE. "This is what prompted this action," she said. "We actually had a confirmatory test in these animals."

She said the tests cannot differentiate whether the sheep have a form of scrapie - a fairly common TSE sheep disease - or a version of mad cow disease. "We can say now there is infection (in the animals)," she said. "This marker would indicate an infectious agent in sheep."

But Thomas Pringle, an Oregon molecular biologist and TSE expert, said the USDA should have done a double-blind study - one in which the samples were not identified - before condemning the sheep. He said instead the samples were labeled as coming from the controversial Vermont herd, which could have prejudiced the results.

"This is high-school science fair stuff," he said.

Pringle noted that the Vermont sheep do not display any outward signs of illness. He said there would be no harm to the public or to the U.S. livestock industry if the government waited while the tests on the Vermont sheep were compared to tissue slides of TSE in British sheep. But the USDA is rushing to judgment, he said, because it wants to impress the European Union - which has banned imports of U.S. beef - that it is doing everything possible to curb the spread of mad cow disease.

"From the point of view of the U.S. beef industry, these Vermont sheep farms had to go. They were pawns in a larger game," he said. "This is high profile image-buffing to demonstrate our resolve to deal with any whiff of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) in American livestock. The intended target is not the American consumer. The intended target is European authorities" who control U.S. beef imports.

U.S. to kill Vermont sheep over 'mad cow' fears

Mon, Jul 17, 2000 Reuters Online Service By Kevin Kelley
EAST WARREN, Vt. Three Vermont flocks of sheep have been ordered destroyed by U.S. agriculture officials, who say the 376 animals could be carrying mad cow disease.

Owners of the two biggest flocks, however, downplayed that danger Monday and said they deserved millions of dollars for the loss of their livelihood.

The government order, which cannot be appealed, came after tests on four slaughtered animals proved positive for transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, or TSE.

TSE includes scrapie, a disease of sheep not considered a threat to humans, and "mad cow" disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), which has been linked to an invariably fatal brain-wasting disease in people known as new-variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. It will take years to determine which disease is involved in the Vermont case, the U.S. Agriculture Department said.

Mad cow disease was first reported in Britain in 1986. The British outbreak may have resulted from feeding cattle sheep-meat-and-bone-meal infected with scrapie.

The Vermont sheep flocks targeted for slaughter were built up with sheep imported from Belgium and the Netherlands in 1996. Two years later, the Agriculture Department learned it was likely that the sheep had been exposed to feed contaminated with mad cow disease while in Europe, and the flocks were quarantined.

But milk from the sheep had been sold, as had cheese made from the milk. "Some offspring of these these animals were (also) slaughtered for human consumption," according to the Agriculture Department, which said it was working with federal and Vermont agencies "to determine if there are any associated human health concerns."

No cases of mad cow disease have been diagnosed in the United States, but as a precaution, the Food and Drug Administration banned most uses of mammal proteins in feed for cows, sheep, goats and other ruminant animals in June 1997.

The Agriculture Department officials said one Vermont sheep farmer, with 21 animals, had accepted the government's decision and had agreed to the payment of whatever compensation it thought appropriate. But two flocks, totaling 355 animals, were being destroyed over the owners' objections, the officials noted.

One of the protesting owners, Larry Faillace, who holds a doctoral degree in animal physiology, described tests like those performed on the slaughtered sheep as unreliable. And the other farmer, Houghton Freeman, maintained that "the chances of someone getting sick from these sheep are the same as being hit by an asteroid on your front porch."

But department spokesman Andy Solomon said: "It is necessary for us to act with an abundance of caution. The potential impact of any strain of TSE making its way through American livestock could be very costly."

The Agriculture Department has asked independent appraisers to determine the fair market value of the sheep so compensation can be paid before their destruction and incineration.

Faillace suggested he should get $11.3 million, which he calculated as the total worth of his business. He termed his imported East Frisian dairy sheep "irreplaceable in the United States" and said his livelihood would be ruined by the government action. Freeman also said he should be paid "millions of dollars" in compensation for his investments.

Mad Sheep

Mon, Jul 17, 200 AP US & World  WILSON RING
 
The owners of three flocks of sheep imported from Belgium to produce milk are losing their animals because of the possibility they were infected with a sheep equivalent of mad cow disease. The disease, officially known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE, affected some 180,000 head of British cattle and has been linked to a similar illness in humans, known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. About 76 people died in Britain after apparently eating contaminated beef.

Tests on four slaughtered sheep from a Greensboro farm found evidence of disease in their brains that could indicate the presence of BSE, U.S. Department of Agriculture officials said Friday as they ordered the three flocks of 376 animals destroyed.

The results don't mean the animals definitely have the same disease that caused the outbreak in Great Britain, but they could have. "Even the remotest possibility that it could be that, I think that we have to take all precautions to protect the livestock industry and subsequently the public health," said Linda Detwiler, senior staff veterinarian for the USDA.

Larry Faillace, who owns 120 of the animals, said the tests were incomplete and his animals had shown no symptoms of BSE. "There has never been a sheep in the whole world that has gotten mad cow disease," said Faillace, of East Warren.

Officials said that was true, although researchers have been able to infect sheep with BSE in laboratories. In addition, sheep are susceptible to scrapie, a disease similar to mad cow disease.

The sheep, a breed called East Friesians, have been quarantined since 1998, two years after the first of them arrived from Belgium. However, the farmers have been allowed to sell cheese made from the animals' milk.

Houghton Freeman, who owns a flock in Greensboro, said his lawyer was looking into whether it would be possible to block the seizure. "I'm told the chances of blocking it are pretty slim," Houghton said Friday.

The sheep came from an area of Belgium where BSE has been found. They are the only such flocks in the United States. The disease is spread when animals eat feed made from the brains of infected animals, and the USDA said there was a possibility the sheep in Vermont ate contaminated feed before they were imported.

Agriculture Department officials have said they would pay for the sheep, but Faillace said they had not given him a price.

Faillace, who holds a doctorate in animal physiology, and his wife imported the sheep in hopes of establishing breeding stock for the sheep dairy industry. He said the sheep milk was their only livelihood "People really love our cheese," he said.

BSE alert over sheep imported to US

July 18 2000  From James Bone In New York
SHEEP imported to Vermont from Europe are to be destroyed after tests showed that they could be infected with a variety of BSE.

The US Agriculture Department ruled that the 376 East Friesian milking sheep posed a "real danger to the national economy" when routine tests on four slaughtered animals found their brains to be infected with a type of bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

Officials said that sheep had never been known to have contracted BSE on farms, but scientists had been able to infect sheep with BSE in the laboratory.

The sheep were imported in 1966 from Belgium and The Netherlands, where they could have eaten feed made from the brains of infected animals.

Farmers brandishing "Save Our Sheep" signs protested that the government tests were inconclusive. Larry Faillace, an East Warren farmer who imported 120 of the sheep for cheese production, said: "There has never been a sheep in the whole world that has gotten 'mad cow' disease."

But the Government said it could take no chance with the disease, which has killed more than 76 people in Britain. "With even the remotest possibility that it could be that, I think that we have to take all precautions to protect the livestock industry and subsequently public health," Linda Detwiler, the Agriculture Department's senior vet, said.

U.S. Will Seize and Destroy Sheep at Risk of an Infection

July 18, 2000 By CAREY GOLDBERG NY Times
Federal agriculture officials plan to seize and destroy nearly 400 Vermont sheep in the coming days, over the objections of the owners, because four of the group imported from Belgium have tested positive for a disorder that may be similar to the mad cow disease reported in Europe.

Formally called bovine spongiform encephalopathy, mad cow disease is not known to have ever passed from cattle to sheep, except in the laboratory. But the agricultural authorities said today that they were intent on sparing the United States the nightmare Europe has been through, and with the sheep showing definite signs of some form of disease, they said they wanted to err far on the side of caution.

"I know this is a really difficult situation for these farmers," said Andrew Solomon, a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture. "But from our perspective, this issue is about a lot more than three individual farmers. It's about safeguarding American livestock and American agriculture." "What we've done in this instance is to act with an abundance of caution," Mr. Solomon said.

But one owner, Linda Faillace, whose family tends a flock of 120 sheep of the East Friesian breed from Belgium and makes Three Shepherds cheese from their milk, described the planned seizure as a turn toward "Gestapo tactics" based on questionable science. Her family and the other main owner, Houghton Freeman, who owns about 230 sheep, are asking the government to delay the seizures until additional tests can determine whether the sheep really had a dangerous transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, or T.S.E., a family of diseases that turn the brain spongy with holes.

"If we felt these animals had T.S.E., or if we felt there was the science showing these animals have T.S.E., we would have handed them over very quietly and been done with it long ago," Ms. Faillace said. "We're trying to help American agriculture, not hurt it. But just to have the sheep victimized by power groups and bureaucracy needs to be stopped."

Thomas Amidon, the lawyer for Mr. Freeman, said he and his client were trying to determine their rights in this situation. "We are looking into the teeth of the full force of the U.S. government," Mr. Amidon said.

In Europe, an estimated 180,000 cows have been infected with mad cow disease since the 1980's, apparently through feed that included the rendered brains of diseased animals, and at least 59 deaths have been attributed to a human version called new-variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. In 1996, the European Commission imposed a worldwide ban on British beef exports. The ban was lifted in July 1999.

The Faillaces were well aware of the danger of mad cow disease when they imported their sheep from Belgium in 1996. Larry Faillace, Linda's husband, has a doctorate in animal science. The family has also abided by a Department of Agriculture quarantine put on the sheep in 1998, selling sheep only to the federal government, which would test, then incinerate, them.

But all the tests had been negative until the most recent ones, agriculture officials say. The tests turned up positive, they say, for abnormal prions, the infectious proteins believed to cause mad cow disease. The quick testing of the sheep cannot determine which exact disease they had, however, and it could be that they suffered from scrapie, a fatal disorder of the same family as mad cow disease that has been appearing in sheep for centuries but has not affected humans, said Linda Detwiler, senior staff veterinarian at the Department of Agriculture.

Still, Dr. Detwiler said: "We'd be concerned about scrapie as well, because it could be an atypical strain or something we don't have in this country." Scrapie, too, would mean death for the sheep, she said.

It will take two or three years to determine exactly which disease the sheep had, she said, because generations of mice infected with samples from the sheep must be followed to see what type of disease they develop and whether it turns out to be transmissible.

Dr. Detwiler noted that neither mad cow disease nor scrapie has been shown to cause infections through milk, so there would seem to be little need to worry about sheep's cheese products. And though a few of the progeny of the imported sheep were sold for meat, all were believed to have been very young, meaning they carried a smaller risk of infection, agriculture officials said.

The Belgian sheep could have caught the disease by eating contaminated feed while still in Belgium, in an area where it has appeared among cows, agriculture officials said. But Ms. Faillace said she and her husband had carefully checked the feed records for the sheep. She also questioned whether the federal tests were accurate, citing some internal contradictions and a new testing methodology.

Dr. Detwiler said the sheep's owners would be compensated for their loss, and would be paid as much as they would have received if they had sold the sheep for breeding, rather than to a slaughterhouse. The animals from Belgium produce 10 times as much milk as American sheep. But the owners object to the plan and Ms. Faillace said dozens of allies support them.

Among their allies is Tom Pringle, a frequent critic of government mad cow policy, who writes on his Website, www.mad-cow.org:

"There has been a rush to judgment. The U.S.D.A. does not have its scientific ducks in a row. This site supports U.S.D.A. in taking draconian action but not willy-nilly nor as a publicity stunt" to impress European Union regulators.

Opinion (webmaster): Substantative questions have been raised about contradictions between different tests, lack of control brains, lack of sample encoding based on examination of the laboratory reports. These need to be addressed before any diagnosis is reached on these sheep.

UK's human mad cow cases rise 20-30 percent per year

Reuters World Report Mon, Jul 17, 2000 By Sinead O'Hanlon
British government scientists said the incidence of the deadly human form of mad cow disease in Britain was increasing by a "statistically significant" 20 to 30 percent a year. The Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC), set up by the government to monitor the brain-wasting disease, said however that it was too early to assess the long-term trend on variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD).

"There are now 76 definite and probable cases, including seven probables still alive," the committee said in a statement late on Monday. "The number of cases reported now indicated a statistically significant rising trend of about 20 percent to 30 percent per annum."

Last month the government launched an urgent inquiry into a cluster of CJD deaths around the small village of Queniborough in the central English county of Leicestershire. Three of the four victims died within weeks of each other and all lived within a close radius. Two of those who died were teenagers.

Dr Robert Will, head of the government's CJD surveillance unit, said at the weekend that baby food and school meals may have been a major source for the Queniborough outbreak. He said these foods in the 1980s contained mechanically extracted beef -- leftovers from the carcass which were removed with high-powered water jets and then ground up and used in cheap food products.

Many scientists believe humans contract the disease by eating meat from cattle infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease.

The Health Department has ordered tests of more than 10,000 tonsils and appendixes removed since 1985 to find out how many people in Leicestershire have contracted the disease. A Department spokeswoman said last Friday an investigation would probably take months but could provide vital information on the disease.

Outbreaks of BSE all but crippled Britain's beef industry in the late 1990s and provoked a bitter political row within Europe over whose beef was safe to eat. SEAC said the team investigating the Leicestershire deaths was likely to report within the next few months and could well cast new light on the transmission of the disease.

CJD deaths will rise by 30%: expert

Tue, Jul 18, 2000  By Martin Hickman, Political Correspondent, PA News
Deaths from the human form of mad cow disease are expected to increase by up to 30% over coming years, the head of a Government panel of experts on the disease warned today. Between two and four more people will probably die from new variant CJD in addition to the 10 to 15 deaths currently experienced each year, said Professor Peter Smith. [18 cases had onset last year -- webmaster]

Prof Smith, acting head of the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee, said this was borne out by a "statistically significant" increase in cases. The disease could claim thousands of lives but he believed it was now less likely that it would kill tens of thousands. New variant CJD destroys the brains of its victims and is believed to have been spread by beef from cattle infected with mad cow disease, or BSE.

Prof Smith, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said that until now the incidence of the disease had remained "fairly constant". He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "But there has been a trend upwards and we have just seen analyses showing that that trend upwards now is formally statistically significant and is unlikely to be due to chance.

"The total number of cases so far that have been reported is 76. We are currently observing between 10 and 15 deaths a year and we think that the increase is of the order of 20-30% a year. "So it means that around the next years or so we expect there to be an extra two to four deaths a year compared to the number that we have been observing."

Prof Smith said that it was important to get the epidemic into "perspective" and that numbers affected were relatively small. "We don't know how the epidemic is going to evolve over time," he added. However, the view that the epidemic might cause hundreds of thousands of deaths was in his view "unlikely now". He added: "I think we are likely to be dealing with much smaller numbers than that.

"It's possible it won't be a very large epidemic, may involve perhaps a hundred, several hundred cases, could run into the thousands but I think - and this is a personal view - the likelihood that it will run into tens or hundreds of thousands is much more remote now than it was several years ago."

Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC)

Monday 17th July 2000 DoH  Press Release 
The Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC) met at the offices of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Whitehall Place West, London on 17 July 2000. A full summary of the Committee's deliberations will be made available on 1st August. In the meantime, the Committee has issued the following statement.

The Committee conducted its regular review of epidemiological information on variant Creutzfeldt Jakob disease (vCJD) and noted that there are now 76 "definite" and "probable" cases, including 7 "probables" still alive. The Committee noted that the number of cases reported now indicated a statistically significant rising trend of around 20-30% per annum to date (i.e. currently corresponding to some two to three additional cases each year further to those already being reported) but concluded that it was too early to assess the extent of this trend over coming years, or forecast accurately the ultimate size of the vCJD epidemic.

The Committee also noted that four "definite" and one "probable" case of vCJD had occurred in an area of Leicestershire. The higher number of cases in that area is unlikely to have occurred by chance but this cannot be completely ruled out. The Committee welcomed the fact that a locally based investigation was now underway to look into the circumstances of this apparent cluster, as this could well throw new light on the mode of transmission of vCJD, which would also have implications for our understanding of the national epidemic. The Committee noted that the local investigation was likely to report within the next few months, and asked to be kept closely informed of developments.

Baby food firms deny mad cow risk

July 17, 2000 BBC News
There is concern over the contents of baby foods during the 1980s Companies producing baby food for the UK have hit back at claims that the meat they used could be the cause of vCJD in children.

Boots, Heinz and Cow and Gate, which between them make a large proportion of the total processed baby foods sold in the UK, all said they had never extracted meat from potentially-infectious areas of beef cattle.

These include the spine and skull, and meat taken from the tonsils, tongue, spleen or intestines - areas which harbour more of the infectious agent in BSE-infected cattle. The government banned the use of various offals, and meat extracted from the spine and skull in 1989.

Dr Robert Will, director of the government¼s CJD surveillance unit in Edinburgh, said at the weekend that meat processing methods in the 1980s may have led to contaminated beef ending up on children's plates.

Abattoir methods In particular, he said, the process of "mechanically recovering" meat could have increased the risk. This involves using high pressure jets of air or water to blast small scraps of meat from the carcass of an animal that has already been butchered and prime cuts removed.

The resultant slurry is forced through a fine-mesh sieve which removes some of the excess connective tissue.

Beef and other red meat is produced only by this kind of machine. Other types of mechanical meat extraction used create poultry feeds, involve a screw with a crushing action - meaning that more bone material ends up in the feed.

However, a spokesman for Heinz said that the company had never used mechanically-recovered meat from beef in its baby foods. He added that the company had never used any of the offal later banned by the UK government.

A spokesman for Cow and Gate, another major manufacturer, said: "During the 1980s, we used muscle meat from areas like the leg and forequarters of beef. "Our specification has always excluded meat from the skull of an animal, (including brain and eyes), tonsils, tongue, spleen, spinal cord, thymus or intestines, even before the Bovine Offal Regulations were introduced."

A spokesman for Boots also moved to reassure parents. She said: "We can confirm that, before its ban in 1989, mechanically recovered meat from the specified risk materials was never used in the production of Boots brand baby food."

There are, however, still fears that children¼s food relying heavily on cheaper sources of meat during the 1980s might include larger amounts of meat mechanically recovered from more potentially risky areas of the carcass. The variant of CJD attributed to exposure to infected beef seems to have affected a disproportionately larger number of young people.

[Comment (J Ralph Blanchfield): Today the UK media continued to plug the "school meals" hypothesis (today's Telegraph headline "School food 'may have spread CJD' "), and to give great prominence to the views of Robert Will and Dr Monk of Leicestershire, supposedly to explain why BSE-related-CJD victims are all younger people.

The school meals hypothesis may or may not prove to be valid, but the way it is being exclusively focused upon, to the exclusion of any other possibility, is astounding.

What is it that nearly all UK young people have in common, that most middle-aged and elderly people do not? It is that the young people will have been vaccinated as very young children in the period of say 1980-1993. In that period hundreds of "injectible medicinal products" involving potentially BSE-infected bovine materials of UK origin were manufactured and used, as evidenced by documents from the BSE Inquiry posted here by Terry, and answers elicited to questions put in the House of Lords by Ralph Lucas.

Would it not be reasonable at least to consider this possible reason why young people have been victims? Yet not a single mention in the media! It is almost as though there has been a conspiracy of silence, that the word "vaccine" must not be mentioned.

The big investigation that is promised is said to involve "local abattoirs and their slaughtering practices" and attempts to discover other people's recollections of what victims may have eaten an indeterminate number of years ago.

How about including an investigation of hospital and GP records of vaccinations of the victims -- not just those in Queniborough but of all the victims.

J Ralph Blanchfield MBE
Food Science, Food Technology & Food Law Consultant
Chair, IFST External Affairs
Web Editor, Institute of Food Science & Technology 

Rabies vaccines made in sheep brain

Sun, 16 Jul 2000 WHO Consultation on Public Health and Animal TSEs 33    Dec 99 or pdf

7.6 Could vaccines prepared from animal brain tissue pose a risk of transmission of Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies to humans?

François Meslin
Over 40,000 deaths due to rabies are reported annually worldwide and each year seven to eight million people receive antirabies vaccine treatment following dog bites. Dog rabies poses a significant public health problem in Asia, as 85% of the human deaths due to rabies reported worldwide and 80% of the vaccine doses applied in developing countries come from this part of the world.

In many Asian countries such as Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan, sheep-brain based Semple vaccine [beta-propiolactone inactivated or phenolized antirabies vaccine containing 5% suspension of sheep brain infected with a fixed strain of rabies viru] is the only vaccine available free of cost. It represents 50 to 95% of all vaccine doses used for rabies post-exposure treatment, depending upon the country. A complete treatment consists of 10 subcutaneous daily injections of 2 to 5 ml (depending mainly on patient size and nature of the exposure) plus booster doses; that is a total of 25 to 50 ml of the 5 % sheep brain suspension injected over a 10-day period.

According to the literature, the reported rate of neuroparalytic complications following the use of this vaccine varies from 1:600 to 1:1575 administrations, and 20- 25% of these lead to death. The exact incidence of neuroparalytic complications throughout India or other countries in the area is not known. However, in the State of Karnataka, India, 112 cases of neuroparalytic accidents were admitted in the past 20 years following Semple vaccine administration. In contrast, the newly developed cell culture or embryonating egg vaccines are effective and safe, with lower and less severe complication rates.

In many Asian countries, Semple type vaccine has been used for the past 90 years. In India forty million ml of this vaccine are produced in this country to treat at least 500 000 persons each year. In Pakistan 450 000 and in Bangladesh 60 000 people receive Semple type vaccine after possible exposure to rabies. There is a theoretical risk of TSE transmission to humans through parenteral administration of these products. Although there is to date no evidence of such occurrences in human medicine, recent events in the TSE field have demonstrated that an animal TSE agent could affect human beings.

The situation is very similar regarding rabies vaccines for animal use. For example various Indian veterinary vaccine institutes prepare 100 million ml of Semple vaccine for use in both rabies pre-and post-exposure prophylaxis in dogs and food production animals each year. Scrapie could be theoretically transmitted to animal vaccine recipients, especially ruminants, through sheep-brain based vaccines such as Semple type vaccine. This could happen because scrapie infectivity, if present, would not be inactivated by the manufacturing process.

In this connection, a recent publication strongly suggests that scrapie was transmitted to sheep and goats through the administration of a veterinary vaccine whose method of preparation is similar to the Semple type vaccine. [Italy, 1999. A similar vaccine incident in Britain was documented in 1935. -- webmaster]

In addition, various Asian countries have begun to use animal tissues as feed supplement for intensive sheep and dairy cattle production. This introduces an additional, though still theoretical, possibility that scrapie, or even BSE, could spread among the sheep population and enter the sheep flocks that are used as a source of rabies vaccine production for human or animal use.

In areas where the status of animal TSE is not well documented, this risk cannot be totally ruled out, though it may be remote, as there is no test available at present to detect pre-clinical cases of prion disease in sheep.

Farm groups assure U.S. consumers meat safe from BSE

Mon, Jul 17, 2000 Reuters North America
U.S. farm groups reassured consumers on Monday that the U.S. food industry was perfectly safe from any contamination of a brain-wasting disease related to "mad cow" disease found in Vermont sheep.

The industry said the U.S. Department of Agriculture's July 10 discovery of four imported sheep carrying a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) was a reaffirmation of the aggressive food safety surveillance undertaken by the United States. TSE is a type of ailment that can cause scrapie in sheep and "mad cow" disease in cattle.

USDA said Monday that 376 sheep imported from Europe, including the four sheep carrying TSE, were purchased by the department and will be killed and incinerated.

All sheep possibly contaminated with TSE "are 100 percent contained," said Paul Rodgers, American Sheep Industry Association public health director. "Consumers should be very pleased - this is a case in which the government actually worked."

The acquired sheep were in three flocks from Vermont that were built with sheep imported from Belgium and the Netherlands in 1996. The USDA routinely monitored these animals for any evidence of TSE since arriving in the United States.

Milk from the sheep was sold and used to produce cheese that also was sold. USDA officials said that consumption of these products by humans is perfectly safe.

The "mad cow" disease outbreak, first reported in Britain in 1986 and linked to at least 75 deaths, may have resulted from the feeding of scrapie-containing sheep meat-and-bone meal to cattle.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association said because of strict USDA regulations, there was no concern of TSE-contaminated sheep spreading to the U.S. cattle population. USDA officials estimate it will take researchers two to three years to differentiate which TSE strain infected the Vermont sheep.

BSE waste spread on fields: contamination risk `negligible'

Mon, Jul 17, 2000 By Sarah Westcott, Political Staff, PA News
The practice of spreading condensation from cattle rendering plants over agricultural land represents a "negligible" BSE risk to the public, it emerged today.

But the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC) believes it should be discontinued because of a "risk to animal health", Junior environment minister Chris Mullin said.

The beef production process can involve boiling carcasses, which produces sizeable amounts of steam and condensation. This is then drained into a storage tank and sometimes disposed of in fields, said a spokesman for the Environment Agency.

In a Commons written reply, Mr Mullin said the Environment Agency had commissioned an assessment of the risk of BSE from the condensate of the rendering of cattle slaughtered under the Over Thirty Month Scheme.

It concluded that the practice is "unlikely to represent a risk to people due to contamination of drinking water with BSE infectivity or due to people being exposed to aerosols of the condensate". Even when the condensate is untreated, the concentration of infectivity is "low", Mr Mullin said.

Cattle grazing on the treated land would be extremely unlikely to be exposed to a dose large enough to result in infection with BSE, he added.

SEAC has advised that the practice be discontinued because of "the presence of detectable levels of ruminant protein in samples which could pose a risk to animal health," the minister added. He said the Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is considering how to take forward the SEAC advice and "hopes to consult on proposals shortly".

Comment (webmaster): Better late than never. Just when a person thinks the last exposure to BSE has been discussed and eliminated, a new one is revealed. Spreading this waste upon the fields for the last 15 years, during the height of the BSE epidemic, where it potentially could fuel the BSE infection cycle and expose people to aerosols and contaminated drinking water, was not a good idea then, so how are they just getting to it now?

Test shows 9 of 81 elk at Philipsburg, Montana game farm had CWD

Billings Gazette, 15 July 2000 [edited at ProMed]
A more advanced test shows 9 of the 81 elk killed at a Philipsburg game farm last year had chronic wasting disease (CWD), 5 more than the number identified in previous testing, state veterinarian Arnold Gertonson said Friday. He also said the disease has not spread from the Philipsburg facility to any other Montana game farm. Gertonson said the second-generation test is more sensitive than the previous testing method available to diagnose the disease, which is deadly to deer and elk and causes a slow wasting away of the animal.

The newer test was used in the testing of elk recently euthanized by the state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks at the Elk Valley Game Ranch near Hardin, a herd having been under quarantine since June of 1998. No cases of CWD were found in the Elk Valley herd, even though 4 of the 29 adult elk at the site originated from the Kesler game farm at Philipsburg. The Elk Valley herd was euthanized because the license had not been renewed and the facility was closing.

Montana regulations require that whenever any game-farm animal 16 months or older dies, it must immediately be tested for chronic wasting disease. Since April 1999, 560 samples have been submitted from 41 game farms.

"No elk other than the 9 from the one facility in Philipsburg have been diagnosed with CWD," Gertonson said. "The Kesler facility in Philipsburg did not provide elk to any other Montana alternative livestock facility except the Elk Valley Game Ranch, where all elk recently tested negative for the disease. Therefore it appears the Kesler facility did not spread the disease to any other facility in Montana." [Testing would need to continue for 5-7 years at trace-forward game farms given the long incubation period of the disease -- webmaster]

In February, the state veterinarian ordered a 5-year surveillance under which no deer or elk can be imported into Montana without first having been under continuous surveillance for CWD for 5 years.

The animal also must have lived within a captive herd where no case of the disease has been found for 5 years. Montana regulations are the strongest in the nation, and other states are considering adopting them, Gertonson indicated. The Montana Legislature this year enacted a moratorium on the licensing of any new game farms until a live-animal test for CWD can be developed.

Vermont sheep get all-clear from England

19 Jul 00 webmaster opinion, private correspondence, and news reports
Until Monday, the government said the cheese and milk was safe. Yesterday US marshalls seized 17 wheels of chees at the farmhouse as Level III biohazard. CDC issued some nonsensical statement without checking the scientific literature that was soon contradicted by something from FDA. Vermont Dept of Health issued a chilling warning yesterday, naming the brands and plant manufacturing it. But now "As of today, there is no recall," their official said. "This is intended as a recommendation for the public".

The USDA is says below additional tests of an unspecified nature were run at an unspecified lab in England, saying "the British experts concluded there was evidence that the lesions could have TSE."

But the webmaster was told an hour ago by a well-known laboratory in England that "the lab here has not yet received samples from these Vermont sheep but molecular strain typing would be very interesting and quick."

A respected individual at the second of the three well-known facilities in England did in fact examine the slides of sheep brain. His report to USDA (received _after_ the USDA had concluded an atypical for of TSE likely BSE had been found) says, 'no vacuoles, no Prp-res, but maybe a proliferation of glial cells, suggesting a neurological condition that might or might not develop later into neurological disease and might or might not be infectious but that did not resemble any case of BSE in sheep or TSE in sheep that anyone there had ever seen.'

USDA is welcome to read this as saying "British experts concluded there was evidence that the lesions could have TSE" but in my opinion it is strongly contra-indicative of a diagnosis of any TSE in the Vermont sheep, reducing the USDA claim to reliance on a single uncontrolled, unblinded western blot from a hay mite lab.

The sheep have already been on the ground for 4 years (208 weeks). In 4 weeks (total 212 weeks), responsible testing could be completed and repeated. There has been a rush to judgement here. It is not fair to the sheep nor to the farmers.

Let's take the time to find out what is really going on with these sheep. America has had far too many lynching parties already.

Sheep cheese seized at farmhouse but left on shelves

By John Dillon  TIMES ARGUS STAFF 19 Jul 00
WARREN - State health officials are warning the public not to eat cheese made from the milk of sheep the federal government claims are infected with a form of mad cow disease.

Health Commissioner Dr. Jan Carney issued the warning notice Tuesday after consulting with the federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta about the safety of milk from the infected animals.

The Health Department warning is the latest move in an ongoing battle over the fate of 376 sheep on two Vermont farms. The U.S. Department of Agriculture last week announced it would seize and destroy the animals because a test had shown four were infected with a form of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, or TSE.

TSE is a class of degenerative, always fatal, brain diseases that includes mad cow disease, a mysterious ailment that ravaged the British beef industry and led to 53 deaths in the United Kingdom. The USDA is concerned that the Vermont sheep or their forebears were exposed to the disease before they were imported from Europe in the mid-1990s.

Federal officials had maintained until Monday that the cheese made from the Vermont sheep's milk was safe to consume. However, the CDC has now told Carney there is a risk that humans could contract the disease from eating the cheese, she said.

Carney noted, however, that the risk is very slight because studies have not shown that people contracted the illness through eating dairy products during an outbreak of mad cow disease in the United Kingdom.

"The emphasis is on the word precaution," Carney said. The CDC "characterized the risk (of eating the cheese) as theoretical, meaning to date no one has ever become ill from eating milk or milk products from cows exposed" to the disease. The Health Department warning applies to cheese sold under the name Three Shepherds of the Mad River Valley and Northeast Kingdom Sheep Milk Cheese.

Carney said officials - despite Tuesday's warning - are not ordering the cheese to be taken off store shelves. "As of today, there is no recall," she said. "This is intended as a recommendation for the public."

At the Warren farm where the Three Shepherds cheese is made, owners Larry and Linda Faillace handed out cheese to friends and neighbors Tuesday. The Faillaces maintain the cheese is safe to eat and are considering going to court to block the federal seizure of their flock.

"This (Health Department warning) is just another example of pseudo-science. It's another example of them trying to put us out of business," Linda Faillace said.

In addition to the Warren flock, about 200 sheep owned by Stowe philanthropist Houghton Freeman is also subject to the seizure order and state Health Department warning. Freeman's Greensboro farm produces the Northeast Kingdom Sheep Milk Cheese.

Freeman's attorney, Thomas Amidon of Stowe, said he will likely use a two-fold argument against the seizure. "We will discuss whether the USDA followed its own rules and regulations, and whether this extraordinary measure is justified given that it is based on results from one test," he said.

However, Dr. Linda Detwiler, a USDA veterinarian dealing with the Faillace case, said two lab tests have shown the Greensboro flock has TSE. She said the tests are scientifically valid and must be taken seriously. Both the Warren and Greensboro sheep may have been exposed to TSE through the placenta material at birth, she said.

Detwiler said Tuesday the tests found an abnormal protein used as a marker that indicates a form of TSE. "This is what prompted this action," she said. "We actually had a confirmatory test in these animals."

She said the tests cannot differentiate whether the sheep have a form of scrapie - a fairly common TSE sheep disease - or a version of mad cow disease. "We can say now there is infection (in the animals)," she said. "This marker would indicate an infectious agent in sheep."

But Thomas Pringle, an Oregon molecular biologist and TSE expert, said the USDA should have done a double-blind study - one in which the samples were not identified - before condemning the sheep. He said instead the samples were labeled as coming from the controversial Vermont herd, which could have prejudiced the results.

"This is high-school science fair stuff," he said.

"From the point of view of the U.S. beef industry, these Vermont sheep farms had to go. They were pawns in a larger game," he said. "This is high profile image-buffing to demonstrate our resolve to deal with any whiff of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) in American livestock. The intended target is not the American consumer. The intended target is European authorities" who control U.S. beef imports.

Vermont farmers go to court in mad sheep dispute

Reuters Business Report Wed, Jul 19, 2000 By Randy Fabi
Disgruntled Vermont farmers went to court on Wednesday in an attempt to prevent the U.S. Agriculture Department from destroying their sheep because they may carry an ailment similar to "mad cow" disease in cattle. The USDA, which has been closely monitoring all American livestock since the 1996 outbreak of mad cow disease in Europe, wants to destroy sheep on three Vermont farms as a precaution.

Four of the sheep on farms near Warren, Vermont tested positive earlier this month for a disease known as TSE or transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, according to USDA officials. TSE can cause scrapie, a fatal disease in sheep that leads to a progressive degeneration of the central nervous system. It is part of a family of diseases that includes the deadly BSE, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease.

The federal government wants to purchase all 376 sheep on the three farms and incinerate them as a safety measure. No cases of BSE or mad cow disease have ever been found in the United States.

"In the interest of protecting other livestock, we have to act," said Andy Solomon, a USDA spokesman. "I know this is extremely difficult for farmers involved, but we are working with independent appraisers on how to fairly compensate them."

All the animals are offspring of sheep imported from Belgium and the Netherlands in 1996, before the outbreak of mad cow disease swept Europe and claimed at least 75 lives in Britain. Britain's outbreak dating back to 1986 may have been caused by feeding meat-and-bonemeal made from scrapie-infected sheep to cattle. Lawyers for the farmers went to court in Montpelier, Vermont on Wednesday to try and get a restraining order stopping the USDA.

"This is going to ruin us if the USDA goes through with this," Heather Faillace, a spokeswoman and member of one of the farming families, told Reuters in a telephone interview. "We are going to have to start a whole new business over again."

Faillace said her family was trying to bring Belgian scientists to Vermont to get a second opinion on the flock of sheep. In Brussels, EU officials said they were watching developments with the Vermont sheep.

"We will be monitoring developments very closely," said Beate Gminder, spokeswoman for EU Food Safety Commissioner David Byrne. She said it was possible that EU scientists would be involved at some stage.

EU officials said BSE had never been found in sheep living in the wild. But under laboratory conditions, it has been shown that sheep can carry the disease if they are injected with it. All tests on diseased animals in the wild have eventually shown them to be suffering from scrapie.

The four sheep that tested positive for TSE were not located at the 30-acre Faillace farm, Faillace said. But, some animals in their flock of 150 sheep were among those imported from Belgium.

The USDA has informed the three farms that they must sell their sheep to the department, or the government will declare a state of emergency for the area, Faillace said.

"They also threatened to take away our cheese license and only pay for the sheep by market value," Faillace said. Owners of the two biggest flocks said they deserved millions of dollars for the loss of their livelihood.

Three U.S. Marshalls, two independent appraisers, two USDA veterinarians and several health specialists from the U.S. and Canada were at the Faillace farm on Wednesday to examine the animals. Area residents, who support the three farmers, have threatened to hold a demonstration at the farms and block the USDA from taking the sheep to be incinerated.

The USDA asked British scientists to examine samples from the four sheep suspected of carrying TSE. The British experts concluded there was evidence that the lesions could have TSE, Solomon said.

"We have done very thorough and comprehensive testing," said the USDA's Solomon. "We hope most farmers in the area understand that we are taking this action to protect American livestock."

Mad cow disease or BSE in England was spread through contaminated animal feed, and resulted in a worldwide ban on British beef exports in 1996. The ban was lifted last year. There is no known cure for the disease, which is known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans, that slowly eats holes in the brain.

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