Over two dozen sheep that vanished from a scrapie-quarantined eastern Ontario farm for about two months have all tested negative for the brain-wasting disease.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency on Thursday confirmed it had recovered, euthanized and tested 26 of the 31 adult sheep that went missing in early April from Linda Montana Jones’ quarantined farm at Hastings, Ont., east of Peterborough.
A CFIA spokesperson confirmed by email last week that 11 lambs born to those sheep during their absence were also found to be susceptible to scrapie and were euthanized for further scrapie testing. Results of those tests were not released Thursday.
The agency said Thursday that the missing animals were found on a farm in Grey County, roughly 325 km west of Jones’ farm.
Scrapie quarantines "will remain in place on both farms while the investigation continues," CFIA said, adding "efforts to trace the remaining five sheep continue."
The agency said the negative test results "are consistent with the CFIA’s experience with scrapie in Canada."
A typical infected flock or herd sees an infection rate anywhere between three and 30 per cent, the agency said, noting two sheep from the Hastings-area farm had previously tested positive for scrapie.
Scrapie, a federally-reportable form of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) such as BSE in cattle or Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in people, "can spread among sheep and goats without showing signs in the infected animals for several years," CFIA said.
"Unfortunately, all genetically susceptible animals exposed to scrapie must be humanely euthanized to allow for conclusive testing. This approach ensures the disease does not spread within the national flock."
There is no known human health risk connected to scrapie, the agency reiterated Thursday, but the disease has serious impacts on sheep and goat production and trade. The U.S. border, for example, has been shut to breeding sheep and goats from Canada since the beginning of the BSE crisis in 2003.
"Uphold and respect"
The Jones farm has been quarantined since January 2010, after a single sheep she sold to an Alberta farm in 2007 died and tested positive for scrapie.
Another sheep that died on the Jones farm was tested in late April this year and, according to the agency, was a "very strong positive." Nine other sheep from the same genetic cohort were then destroyed and all tested negative.
Jones, with help from the Calgary-based Canadian Constitution Foundation, has campaigned to prevent her animals, which she describes as rare Shropshire sheep, from being destroyed and tested.
Jones has been lobbying for a "heritage breed exemption" from CFIA’s current protocols for testing and eradication of scrapie, and has been critical of what she describes as "questionable, intransigent government tactics and draconian protocol."
A foundation lawyer from Belleville, Ont. on April 19 filed an application with the Federal Court of Canada, seeking a judicial review to overturn the CFIA’s destruction order for Jones’ animals.
Jones has previously said the 31 sheep vanished sometime overnight before April 2, with only a note left behind from an unknown party called the "Farmers Peace Corp" claiming responsibility.
No charges have yet been announced against anyone relating to the animals’ disappearance from Jones’ farm.
Another Canadian Constitution Foundation client, dairyman and "raw milk" advocate Michael Schmidt of Durham, Ont., said June 13 that he had been "asked by the Farmers Peace Corp to speak on their behalf," though he added he has "no knowledge about the different people involved."
He said in a statement that "those involved in the Farmers Peace Corp have acted without knowledge and involvement of Montana Jones" or her foundation lawyer, Karen Selick.
Schmidt added that "in my role as liaison I can assure that I never visited Montana Jones’ farm, transported or handled any of her sheep."
The group, he said, supports "evidence-based scrapie eradication programs." He said the group had also "made sure to prevent cross-contamination with any other sheep to uphold and respect the quarantine imposed."
Scrapie-quarantined sheep vanish from Ont. farm, April 3, 2012
Raw milk access a matter for consumers, not dairyman: Ruling, Oct. 11, 2011