In 2007, an Alberta sheep producer named Patric Lyster purchased a 14-month-old Shropshire ewe from the Wholearth flock in Ontario, owned by Montana Jones. In late 2009 that sheep died. Because the Alberta producer was participating in voluntary deadstock surveillance, a sample from the dead ewe was tested for the presence of scrapie, a TSE (Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy) of sheep similar to BSE in cattle. The sheep tested positive. The CFIA subsequently genotyped Lyster’s flock to identify which animals were genotyped RR (highly resistant), QR (Resistant) and QQ (susceptible). Most of his Shropshires were QQ.
Owing to the rarity of the Shropshire breed in Canada, Lyster worked with the CFIA to try and come up with a way to salvage some of his flock genetics. The CFIA ultimately agreed to allow him to keep a group of ewes of the rarest genetics alive to be bred to a scrapie-resistant RR ram, in order to keep back as many QR daughters as possible before the QQ ewes were destroyed for testing.
In the meantime the sheep had traced back to the birth farm. When confronted again with the issue of how to deal with rare, valuable genetics, the CFIA in fact offered Ms Jones two years to preserve her genetics in the same type of program that Lyster had used. Ms Jones publicly states that she believes RR-genotyped rams and rams from the US (where RR Shropshire rams can be found) are of no value, even though Patric Lyster had found two separate US flocks that still raise the traditional British-style Shropshire. (In fact if you look at her inventory on the Canadian Livestock Records website, you will see she did in fact purchase an American ram from one of those flocks, something she has rarely publicly admitted.)
Ms Jones chose a path of resistance, as has been widely documented in news media all over the Ontario region, and in some instances nationally. She chose not to co-operate with the CFIA, to delay providing much-needed trace-in and trace-out information, and to deny the possibility there could be scrapie in her flock, even after a second ewe, born just 8 days apart from the first scrapie-positive ewe, tested positive on her own farm. She also insisted she should be allowed to quarantine her flock for five years, even though she publicly admitted a two-year CFIA-imposed quarantine would be a financial hardship. She publicly stated that her flock was registered when in fact only a handful were registered. The ones she would like CFIA to compensate her for (something totally contrary to her own lawyer’s public stance against any form of compensation to commercial sheep farmers) were only registered after death.
What I would like the reader to come away with is that a large percentage of the media coverage of this issue has been blatantly biased. Ms Jones set up a .org website in support of her cause; she would issue “press releases” to various outlets who then printed them as if they were fact. Some did indeed try to verify the claims, but for the most part the “press releases” were put out in their entirety. When certain reporters interviewed her (not all of them, but certainly many that I will not name here) their subsequent news stories presented only Montana Jones’s side of the story. In many cases the reporter tried to get a comment from the CFIA, probably knowing full well that they cannot comment on specific cases.
These are the questions one needs to ask when reading about this case:
-What is the source?
-What are they actually saying, and is there a less inflammatory way to say it?
-Is the assertion indeed proven, or is it in fact an opinion?
-Does the article omit important information? Are there questions the reporter could/should have asked that were not asked?
-Did the information come from a single source? Should they have gotten information from multiple sources in order to provide a balanced news article?
-Does the article print assertions that are actually opinion as if they are fact, in a way that limits debate? Does it give the impression that there is no other way to view the events?
-Does it “frame” the story (in this case, the exposure of supposed wrongdoing) in such a way that it leads the reader to be sympathetic? Would the reader come away with a different impression if the story had been “framed” differently?
I want it on public record that this whole Montana Jones/ Shropshire Sheep/Scrapie/ CFIA fiasco has been frequently portrayed in the media in a manner meant to provide the reader/viewer with preconceived ideas about the events. Ms Jones and her CCF lawyer have manipulated the media to believe certain things about Mr. Lyster, about the CFIA, about scrapie, and about the commercial sheep industry in Canada that are in fact their opinions only. Many of these things are downright offensive. This is a clause taken directly from the court document they filed April 19, 2012: “For commercial sheep breeders, the destruction policy constitutes a form of cost-free, taxpayer-subsidized health insurance for their flock, since the government pays farmers compensation for disposing of their otherwise worthless sick animals.”
Until such time as these reporters are willing to report the whole story, from all relevant viewpoints, I ask the reading/viewing public to keep a more open mind about this case. Until these events, I personally had no idea how easy it is to manipulate the media, orchestrate a news story, and get a reporter to put out your version of a story, in some cases exclusively. Remember, this story has it all- a big bad bully, a poor defenseless downtrodden victim, a government conspiracy theory, and cute fuzzy critters.
To all the reporters who did portray the other side of the story, or who opted to stop reporting on it and stop printing the “press releases” and letters to the editor, Mr. Lyster and I thank you heartily.