Press Release: CFIA Orders Slaughter of 41 Apparently Healthy Heritage Sheep

Press Release: CFIA Orders Slaughter of 41 Apparently Healthy Heritage Sheep

TRENT HILLS, ON: Montana Jones, a breeder of rare Shropshire sheep, has been notified by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) that they intend to destroy 41 of her apparently healthy sheep—including 20 pregnant ewes—on Monday, April 2, 2012.

The order is part of the “scrapie eradication program” undertaken by the federal government in 2010 with funding of $4.5 million. Scrapie is an illness which affects the productivity and longevity of sheep but is not transmissible to humans.

All of the condemned animals tested by the CFIA in live biopsies tested negative for scrapie. Furthermore, none of the animals has shown any clinical symptoms of the disease in the 12 years that Jones has been raising sheep. Obvious symptoms such as chronic scratching, head tremors and an irregular “bunny-hop” gait would ordinarily be apparent if any animals were infected.

A single sheep (known by its tattoo number WHE 24S) sold by Jones to an Alberta farm in 2007, was discovered approximately 3 years later to have scrapie. But scientists cannot accurately determine when or where it acquired the infection. Jones’ farm has nevertheless been under quarantine since January of 2009, causing her great financial hardship.

CFIA veterinarians admit that symptoms of scrapie normally appear within two to five years but have nevertheless condemned the 41 sheep even though none of them has had contact with WHE 24S for almost 5 years. In fact, 37 of the sheep slated for destruction were not even born until after WHE 24S had left the farm.

Jones has been negotiating with the CFIA through her lawyer Karen Selick of the Canadian Constitution Foundation, in the hope of saving the apparently healthy sheep from slaughter, but to no avail.

“This is an endangered breed. They’re due to have lambs soon so I’m expecting 30 to 40 new babies. If CFIA kills my pregnant mothers, there will be only 107 or so females left in Canada,” said Jones.

“CFIA personnel rejected several alternative risk-control measures we offered, and ignored the nearly 3,000 Canadians who petitioned to stop them. They could at least let the lambs be born. My last desperate proposal is an offer to sacrifice 30 sheep for destruction if they would allow me to hold back 11 of the most significant rare breeding stock. Then they’d have a number of brains to test before destroying every single one. If the tests come back negative, they could re-evaluate and at least save some.” Jones explained.

“They have also been refusing to allow a third party tissue test. They plan to take away the only evidence I might have to disprove their results if they claim there is a positive. I have seen the CFIA make numerous errors and am very concerned that their results could be inaccurate.”

Ms. Jones launched to educate and inform the public on the importance of conserving heritage Shropshire sheep. Her Wholearth flock is comprised of genetics which date back to breeding stock imported from the U.K. in the late 1800’s.

If Jones chooses to defy the destruction order, she could be subject to a fine of up to $250,000 and up to two years’ imprisonment. “Montana’s liberty is clearly at stake here,” said lawyer Karen Selick. “The government therefore has a duty not to act arbitrarily or disproportionately, but in our view it is doing both,” Selick alleged.

CFIA has discretion to pay compensation for the confiscation of private property, but may withhold reimbursement if Jones breaches its destruction order. “These rare Shropshires are irreplaceable. Whatever they might pay me wouldn’t be nearly enough to obtain more from England. Those genetics don’t even exist there any more. I’ve lost 12 years of work saving this breed, lost over 2 years of farm income—the ordeal has pretty much exhausted me. Now I’m going to lose these beautiful ewes and their lambs too. ” said Jones.

The 41 sheep have been chosen for destruction specifically because of their genetic makeup. Ironically, one of the CFIA veterinarians involved in condemning the sheep is co-author of a 2010 research paper warning against the dangers of a “selection strategy that takes a sheep population towards homogeneity.”

A demonstration is planned at Jones’ farm on Monday, April 2. Details will follow in a separate media advisory.

The Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF) has been providing legal representation to Montana Jones. The Canadian Constitution Foundation (“Freedom’s Defence Team”) is a registered charity, independent and non-partisan, whose mission is to defend the constitutional freedoms of Canadians through education, communication and litigation.