Appeals court says sheep issue is "moot"

April 23, 2001 Associated Press by Wilson Ring

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York declined to rule on whether or not the U.S. Agriculture Department had the authority to seize two flocks of Vermont sheep feared infected with a version of mad cow disease.

In an entry order issued Friday, the court sent the case back to the U.S. District Court in Vermont where the case was to be declared moot because the sheep had been seized and destroyed.

"It's as if nothing ever happened," said Thomas Amidon, the attorney for former sheep owner Houghton Freeman.

It's still not known if the tests done on the 360 sheep seized last month from Freeman's Greensboro farm and the Warren farm of Linda and Larry Faillace showed any signs of illness that could be mad cow disease.

Hallie Pickhardt, a spokeswoman for the Agriculture Department, said the results of those tests would be released once they became known.

The sheep were seized last month after an eight-month legal battle between the sheep owners and the Agriculture Department.

The sheep, imported from Belgium, were ordered seized last summer after four animals culled from Freeman's flock were found to have a brain ailment that could have been a sheep version of mad cow disease.

Freeman and the Faillaces said the tests that found the ailments were inconclusive.

A U.S. District court judge ruled in February that the sheep could be seized. In March, the circuit court agreed to hear the flock owners' appeal, but declined to stay the seizure order, clearing the way for the seizure.

The sheep were shipped to an Ames, Iowa, facility where they were destroyed.

Besides the actual seizure, the sheep owners were also concerned with the broad language of the emergency declaration, which could allow the Agriculture Department to return to the farms and take other animals or the land itself.

Amidon said farmers in the Greensboro area were interested in using the land and the equipment, but he wouldn't give permission until he had a ruling.

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