Sheep owners, USDA dispute sheep test results

June 6, 2002 Associated Press
The owners of a flock of Vermont sheep seized and killed by the government are saying that test results released to them reveal the animals were healthy.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is disputing the statements made by sheep owner Dr. Larry Faillace that all 99 sheep tested were free of disease.

Following a period of court battles, the USDA seized Larry and Linda Faillace's 125 imported East Friesian and Beltex sheep on a snowy morning in March of 2001 amid tears and shouts of anger from the owners and community supporters. The animals were seized by the USDA for fear they harbored a variant of mad cow disease.

More than a year after the Faillaces' sheep were taken, the USDA announced in April that two of the Faillaces' sheep had tested positive for a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE), a class of illness that includes mad cow disease.

Nothing has changed since that April announcement, said USDA spokesman Ed Curlett this morning.

"We stand by our announcement earlier this year that two of the 99 were positive for a TSE," Curlett said. "That's what we know, that's how we see it, we stand by that announcement earlier this year."

Curlett said the USDA is basing its findings on a test done on the killed sheep by Dr. Richard Rubenstein, who conducted similar tests that led to the initial seizure.

Larry Faillace, an animal scientist as well, said he is basing his findings on those same tests by Rubenstein.

Faillace claims Rubenstein results reveal only an anomaly in tests of two of the animals.

Faillace said this means the results could have been compromised due to storing tissue samples too long and a resulting tissue breakdown.

Faillace said the sheep were seized in March 2001. Only 99 of the 125 were tested, as 26 were lambs.

The Faillaces have always maintained that more tests are required to determine a TSE.

Faillace criticized the USDA for relying on this test and allegedly ignoring an explanation of the results from its consultant, Rubenstein.

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