HASTINGS, ON: The owner of a rare heritage Shropshire sheep flock that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has ordered destroyed has filed a federal court application for judicial review of the order.
Shepherd Montana Jones’ farm has been under quarantine for two years. In March, 2012 the CFIA issued an Order of Destruction to kill the sheep so that it could test their brain tissue for suspected scrapie. Jones had asked the CFIA to consider various alternative proposals to live test and monitor the flock without killing the rare breed, but the CFIA refused. The flock has already tested negative for scrapie in a live biopsy test and has shown no visible symptoms of the disease. Scrapie is not a human health risk.
The 31 sheep were to be destroyed on April 2, 2012. However, the CFIA arrived at Jones’ farm to find the sheep gone and a note left in their place. A group calling itself the Farmers Peace Corp [sic] stated it had “taken the animals into protective custody until an alternative to killing has been found or conclusive independent proof or clear evidence of disease has been proven.” Ontario Provincial Police are still investigating the disappearance.
“I miss my sheep, and my sheep are still missing…but still not safe,” Jones said. “If and when CFIA finds them—they will kill them. After 27 months of uncertainty I want some kind of resolution. They’re out there somewhere about to lamb in an unfamiliar place with an unfamiliar face.”
On her ShropshireSheep.org blog, Jones has suggested that the CFIA make a public appeal offering amnesty to Farmers Peace Corp and a reprieve from death for the flock if the persons responsible for taking them would just return the sheep.
“I’d like my Shropshires back to shepherd them through birthing and raising their lambs. Why doesn’t CFIA ask Farmers Peace Corp to return my sheep safe and sound with a promise of reprieve?”
“CFIA claims the biggest potential risk—if any sheep are indeed positive for scrapie—arises when the sheep give birth. The birthing fluids could theoretically contaminate a new location. So on that point, we want the same thing, to have the lambs born back on my farm.” says Jones. “I’d like them back…but only if they are safe from the CFIA.”
Jones’ lawyer Karen Selick of the Canadian Constitution Foundation says she and her client have cited a multitude of reasons in the application to quash the CFIA Order to destroy the sheep. “There are numerous grounds. Some relate to the abuse of discretionary power, some to the Canadian Bill of Rights, and some to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
“One we are particularly concerned about is that the CFIA has condemned the sheep based on their genotype. The law authorizes the forced destruction of individual suspected animals. It doesn’t mention genotypes. We asked the CFIA in January to identify their reasons for suspecting each animal they condemned, but they never did. They just applied a pre-fab rule, and that’s not what Parliament authorized them to do,” said Selick.
Selick said, “We’re not even sure they have correctly identified the most susceptible genotype. A U.K. study of 14,000 sheep indicates that the CFIA may not even have applied its own rule accurately.”
Selick says they have also learned that the testing of a dead sheep’s obex (brain tissue) is not conclusive and may not be significantly more accurate than the live-animal rectal biopsy, which has an 88% accuracy.
“An expert I’ve interviewed told me that the CFIA’s policy of eliminating certain sheep genotypes may have the unintended consequence of genetically selecting Canada’s national flock for greater susceptibility to other diseases that might turn out to be worse than classical scrapie. The CFIA’s own vets have recognized in published research that it’s unwise to reduce the genetic diversity in the sheep population, but when I quoted it to them in a letter, they did not respond to this concern.”
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.