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U.S. requires ear tags on sheep/goats to allay concerns over disease - article

Posted by GoatWorld on December 03, 2001 at 13:54:46:

U.S. requires ear tags on sheep to allay concerns over disease
Of The Billings Gazette

Although there is no evidence linking scrapie in sheep and goats to mad cow disease or to the human form of the degenerative malady, U.S. sheep producers are now required to ear tag identify all their animals except lambs under 18 months going directly to slaughter.

Rodney Kott, Montana State University-Bozeman’s sheep specialist, said the main reason for the action is a perception of safety for the meat product. Kott gave his presentation Friday to members of the Montana Wool Growers Association at the group’s annual convention at the Sheraton Hotel.

The federal rules went into effect Nov. 18 and apply to all sheep and goats over 18 months that are transported over state lines. However, industry leaders are urging producers to tag all animals.

Scrapie is a neurological ailment similar to “mad cow” disease but is found only in sheep and goats. Sheep that develop scrapie wobble and incessantly bite or scratch themselves. Symptoms can take years to appear. Analysis of brain tissue is the only way to verify the disease.

Kott said that scrapie isolates have been given orally and injected into the brains of cattle without producing the disease. It is carried by prions, which is are protein units that develop a glitch in their replication cycle. The malformed prions are difficult to isolate until the disease is in an advanced stage.

Kott said the tagging requirement is important to developing scrapie-free herds for export in addition to being a verification of the source of the animal and an identification trail for any potential problems that need to be traced.

Most livestock producers now are provided individual identification for their animals. It is useful in keeping breeding records and carcass quality results for the meat.

Australia and New Zealand, the major exporters of lamb, claim to be scrapie-free and refuse to import live sheep and goats from the United States. China is considering a similar ban.

Kott said neither Australia nor New Zealand have scrapie programs.

“If you don’t look for it, you won’t find it,” Kott said.

Kott said scrapie is an old disease that has been in England for 250 years. “It has caused no problems in humans,” he said.

“There is no evidence that consumption of sheep or goat meat or milk, or working with sheep and goats creates any danger of developing Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease,” Kott said. CJD is a human neurological disease that makes the brain turn soft. One person in a million develops the malady and 250 cases are diagnosed each year in the United States. The naturally occurring disease has held steady at that level for years, Kott said. There is no cure.

The human variant of “mad cow” disease is known as vCJD. As of February 2001, 92 cases of vCJD have been verified: 88 in England, three in France and one in Ireland. Scientists are unsure how the disease was transmitted to people but believe that protein from animal byproducts put into cattle feed was the conduit. The victims apparently consumed beef with the “mad cow” prions leading to vCJD.

The use of animal byproduct protein in livestock feeds is now prohibited.

The ear tags for the identification program are being provided through the U.S. Department of Agriculture free of charge for the first two years.

The Montana Wool Growers Association meeting continues through today

Saturday, December 1, 2001

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