From Karen Selick:
This is the letter that I prepared for the Owen Sound Sun Times on July 4, 2012 after discussing with the editor Doug Edgar my concerns about inaccuracies in their reporting on the Montana Jones story. Mr. Edgar led me to believe in our telephone conversation that he would publish my letter if I took the time to write it; otherwise, I would not have spent the time. However, 7 weeks have now gone by, and despite several back-and-forth e-mails with Mr. Edgar, he still has not published my letter, nor has he given any commitment that he will do so. In order to prevent my effort from being a total waste, I am offering this to The Bovine for publication.
Dear Editor of the Sun Times,
I am the lawyer for Montana Jones, owner of the rare Shropshire sheep that were stolen from her farm near Peterborough after being ordered destroyed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). Some of the sheep were found on a farm near Chesley in mid-June. The Sun Times has covered the news in three articles: “Farmers shocked by news of scrapie” (June 15, 2012 http://www.owensoundsuntimes.com/2012/06/14/farmers-shocked-by-news-of-scrapie), “CFIA expects test results this week in scrapie probe” (June 19, 2012 http://www.owensoundsuntimes.com/2012/06/18/cfia-expects-test-results-this-week-in-scrapie-probe) and “Seized sheep did not have scrapie” (June 26, 2012 http://www.owensoundsuntimes.com/2012/06/26/seized-sheep-did-not-have-scrapie). All three articles contained errors or omissions which my client and I wish to address.
The first article quoted a Grey County farmer Vince Stutzki saying, “I think CFIA provided enough opportunity to Montana to be as flexible as possible…” This must be pure speculation on the part of Mr. Stutzki, since Ms. Jones has never spoken to Mr. Stutzki and we presume that the CFIA has not breached Ms. Jones’ right to privacy by talking to Mr. Stutzki about her case.
The fact is that Ms. Jones presented the CFIA with several well-documented proposals as to how her rare breeding stock could be preserved without endangering anyone else’s animals. For instance, she was willing to have her farm remain in quarantine for another five years (on top of the two years she had already endured) and to allow each animal to be tested for scrapie at the end of its natural lifespan. That proposal was flatly rejected by the CFIA.
Another option she proposed to the CFIA was that she surrender for slaughter all but her 11 most prized sheep, those whose genetics she particularly wished to preserve. That proposal was likewise rejected by the CFIA. Ironically, those 11 sheep were among the 26 found in Grey County that have now been slaughtered and found negative for scrapie. Thus Ms. Jones was vindicated in her belief that those sheep were healthy—unfortunately, they’re now all dead.
Ms. Jones has been proposing alternatives to save her sheep since she met with four CFIA veterinarians last November in an audio-recorded meeting. Every proposal was met with complete intransigence on the part of the CFIA. Everything had to be done their way—like it or lump it. The sole departure they would consider from their normal kill-‘em-all protocol would have entailed a great deal of expense for Ms. Jones and still would have resulted in all the targeted sheep being slaughtered within two years.
It was this rigid inflexibility on the part of the CFIA that caused Ms. Jones to make her concerns public on her Save Our Shropshires (SOS) website (http://shropshiresheep.org/). Her objection was that rare sheep were being sacrificed with no proof of illness, reducing the biodiversity of Canada’s sheep population. (Canada has signed an international treaty pledging to preserve biodiversity, incidentally.) The condemned sheep were all apparently healthy and productive. There was no discernible need to kill them—there was nothing but slavish conformity to some rule made by nameless bureaucrats somewhere.
It now appears that a person or persons whom Ms. Jones had never met read her SOS website and decided, without informing her, to take matters into his (or their) own hands by removing the sheep and taking them to Grey County. Had the CFIA accepted one of Ms. Jones’ reasonable proposals to preserve her rare sheep, she would never have started the SOS website and none of the subsequent events would have happened. In short, the CFIA has no-one to blame for this debacle but itself.
Meanwhile, while I’m on the subject of slavish conformity, I note that the last two articles published by the Sun Times on this subject repeated, word-for-word, the CFIA’s press release assertion that scrapie “has serious impacts on sheep and goat production and trade.” I would have expected that a news reporter might want to do a little digging into what that nebulous phrase might mean before incorporating it into his stories.
I telephoned the CFIA’s media relations department myself and asked them what they meant by “serious impacts”. I asked them to quantify the impacts in numeric terms. In their e-mailed response, the only concrete fact or figure they provided was this: “According to Statistics Canada data in 2011-2012, the sale of sheep and lamb products totalled approximately $160 million.” Since this figures was a total for all sheep and lamb products, having nothing whatsoever to do with scrapie, I e-mailed back asking if this was the best they could do. I reiterated my request that they quantify their term “serious impacts”. Their second response was equally devoid of factual information pertaining to scrapie. In fact, they merely reiterated their sentence quoted above.
It appears that the CFIA may not actually have any data to support its claim that scrapie has “serious impacts” on sheep and goat production and trade. They may just be speculating (and unnecessarily alarming farmers in the process) while making their own jobs more secure. After all, scrapie has been known to exist since 1832, but the current Scrapie Eradication Program wasn’t initiated until 2005.
On June 27, I sent an Access to Information request to the CFIA seeking (among other things) a copy of any cost-benefit analysis relied upon by the CFIA to justify the current Scrapie Eradication Program. I’d be happy to share the response with the Sun Times when it arrives.
Karen Selick is Litigation Director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation.