by SUSAN MANN
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says it has confirmed the presence of scrapie in a six-year-old pregnant ewe that died on Montana Jones’ Northumberland County farm April 20.
Jones was notified of the finding Friday night by email just before four CFIA agents and two security guards arrived at her farm, called Wholearth Farmstudio, with a destruction order for nine Shropshire sheep. They left two security guards and vehicles guarding the premises overnight.
Guy Gravelle, CFIA senior media relations officer, says by email this was a “precautionary measure since sheep had previously been taken from the property in violation of the quarantine order.”
Gravelle was referring the theft of 31 sheep from the farm the night before they were slated to be removed on April 2 and slaughtered so their brains could be analyzed for scrapie. The Northumberland OPP is investigating the theft.
The farm has been under quarantine since 2010. A sheep born on Jones’ farm and sold to an Alberta farm in 2007 tested positive for scrapie about three years later.
The 31 missing sheep pose a serious risk for scrapie and could spread the disease to other sheep and goats, the CFIA’s April 27 press release says. Any premises that received them will be subject to quarantine and further regulatory action.
On Saturday morning, CFIA officials arrived to take the nine sheep away for immediate slaughter. Gravelle confirms the sheep “were euthanized and brain and lymph tissue samples were taken for analysis.”
The decision to remove and destroy the sheep “was the direct result of the positive test result of the sheep that died on the farm,” he says.
Gravelle says the private security firm was there at the request of CFIA to prevent any further breaches of the quarantine. They weren’t there to do surveillance nor were they armed.
The pregnant ewe that died and the nine sheep taken Saturday were part of a genotype group, known as VRQ, considered to be not as genetically susceptible to be diagnosed with scrapie.
There are still 10 sheep remaining on Jones’ farm.
Jones is skeptical about the positive scrapie finding and asked a CFIA vet to give her a tissue sample from the animal that tested positive so she can compare it to a sample that she retained from the dead sheep before it left the farm. She wants to have both samples independently tested so she can compare their DNA to ensure the animal that was tested is the same one that left her farm.
Gravelle says Jones was allowed to take tissue samples from the ewe, which died on April 20, as well as hair samples from the nine sheep the CFIA took on Saturday.
Jones says she knew the CFIA “would come up with a positive.” It’s the easiest way for the CFIA to shut down the media attention and scare whoever took the 31 sheep slated for slaughter April 2 to return them. She says by claiming “they have a positive” that is the CFIA’s defense against the judicial review of the destruction order of the 31 missing sheep filed April 24 by Jones’ lawyer, Karen Selick, litigation director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation.
Jones says the CFIA vet examined the ewe the day before she died and said she was fine. Jones says the ewe didn’t have any symptoms of scrapie. “I think she had pregnancy toxemia because she had an impacted rumen.”
Gravelle confirmed a CFIA vet did clinically assess the ewe the day before it died “without being able to diagnosis it with scrapie.” Not all scrapie-infected animals show any of the classical clinical signs, which make diagnosis of live animals difficult.
As for letting Jones have a sample of the brain to have it tested independently, Gravelle says the area of the brain needed for scrapie diagnosis is extremely small and if the abnormal prion is found in that section of the brain it may not be present in another section “therefore the CFIA did not provide duplicate brain samples,” he says.
Scrapie is a fatal disease that affects sheep and goats. There isn’t any human health risks associated with scrapie but it has serious impacts on sheep and the CFIA aims to eradiate it from Canada, the CFIA press release says. Canada’s approach to confirmed or suspected cases of scrapie is based on internationally accepted science and seeks to minimize disruptions to producers. BF