By Emily Tescher-Johnston
September 2005 - Since 2001 there has been an all-out effort to eradicate scrapie in the United States. From the federal government to backyard producers, folks concerned about the future of the sheep industry in this country are working together toward a common goal ? to eliminate scrapie in U.S. flocks by 2010.
The key to meeting the goal is identification (ID) and record-keeping compliance. All sectors ? producers, livestock markets, veterinarians, dealers and slaughter plants, as well as state and government agencies ? must follow the rules and guidelines set in place to reach the eradication goal.
Paul Rodgers, deputy director of policy for the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) says, ?You can have the most sophisticated eradication program out there, but if you don?t have compliance and enforcement, all you have is a hollow shell."
Health Committee chairman for ASI, Jim Logan, DVM, from Wyoming, agrees, "There is no sense in having rules if they are not enforced. ASI strongly encourages producers and all other entities who have responsibilities with the scrapie-eradication effort to ?go the extra mile? in compliance with the state and federal regulations. It is only through full compliance, that we will soon be free of scrapie in the United States and finished with the burdens of the regulations."
Rodgers agrees, "If everyone does their part ? and does it well ? then by 2010 we will have the job done."
The rules for scrapie eradication are defined in Title 9 of the Code of Federal Regulations. They address all levels of production and marketing. There are several areas of compliance that reach into all sectors of the sheep industry. From state agriculture departments to individual producers, everyone is expected to comply.
In November 2001, the United States Department of Agriculture?s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) implemented identification requirements for sheep and goats. Official identification tags with premise identification codes were made available to producers. The purpose of the tags is to allow officials to trace positive sheep and goats back to their flock-of-origin, as well as to any other locations where they resided and to locate exposed sheep and goats for testing.
All breeding sheep of any age and sheep over 18 months-of-age need to be officially identified before they enter into interstate commerce or change ownership.
Some examples of situations requiring official ID include but are not limited to the following:
Goats that must be identified are as follows:
USDA recommends owners place official ID on these animals before they leave the farm to prevent any possibility of an error in identification. Additionally, markets may charge the owner of the flock for their time to keep additional records and to apply ID if sheep are not properly identified when received.
Diane Sutton, DVM, the National Scrapie Program coordinator for USDA/APHIS Veterinary Services notes, "Identification compliance is an important component in the plan to eradicate scrapie from the United States. We must be able to trace scrapie-infected animals back to their flock-of-origin, and we must be able to trace exposed sheep and goats to the flocks where they moved after leaving an infected source flock. During fiscal year 2004, we were unable to trace 14 percent of the positive sheep found at slaughter because producers relied on dealers or markets to tag their animals and those dealers/markets failed to record the required information. Also, at some slaughter plants we are still seeing far too many unidentified sheep. Each time an unidentified cull ewe goes to slaughter without traceable identification, the time to eradication and the cost of eradication increases."
Logan provides another example of why producers should comply with tagging regulations.
"Let?s say a producer neglects to properly identify a breeding animal when he sells it off the farm. And another producer, in another area, also sells breeding animals without the proper tag in place. Somewhere down the line, the non-tagged animals commingle and get mixed up and then there is a scrapie incidence related to one of the animals. Both producers? flocks may be subjected to testing to determine their status or if a market or dealer who later handles the animals incorrectly identifies the animal one of the producers could be blamed for a scrapie problem that is not his. This could all be avoided if the producer had applied the required tags before they left the premises,? says Logan.
Producers who need tags should call APHIS? Veterinary Services (VS) toll-free, tag-request number 1?866?873?2824 (1?866?USDA?TAG). This office will assign you an official flock ID and provide USDA tags without cost to you.
When buying new sheep, producers should never remove any official identification tag ? it is illegal. New identification tags can be inserted to further promote accurate traceback. If you need to remove a tag for health reasons, retain the tag and make a record of the new and old tag numbers.
Logan says, "If folks do not tag correctly they won?t be able to sell sheep, and if they do try to sell sheep without complying with the tagging rules, they will be fined."
Traceback is an important step in eradication plans. If a scrapie-positive animal is found, officials need to be able to find the flock-of-origin, as well as any flocks where the animal resided for breeding purposes. A combination of proper tagging and accurate records is essential to effective traceback efforts.
Record keeping is required across the board, in all areas of the sheep business. Producers, markets, dealers and regulatory agencies all need to keep accurate and updated records. To assist in traceback efforts an owner?s statement should be provided by the seller to the buyer for breeding animals. The seller provides an owner?s statement for the buyer and one for the seller?s records. The owner?s statement includes:
If an owner?s statement is not provided, the buyer must record the required information. Proper record keeping and notation must continue in the event that a producer sells any purchased animals. If the animal was not used for breeding, the seller should give the new buyer a copy of the owner?s statement received when the animal was purchased. On the other hand, if the animal was used for breeding, the seller should provide the purchaser with a new owner?s statement.
Remember, the goal is to be able to traceback to the flock into which the animal was born and any flocks in which the animal resided ? and particularly where they lambed ? after birth.
Other important records include an official Certificate of Veterinary Inspection issued by an accredited veterinarian for any breeding sheep crossing state lines. Animals sold for slaughter must have an owner?s statement that notes "for slaughter only or for feeding for slaughter only.? All entities are required to keep record for at least five years from the date an animal was transported or sold.
Other Compliance Issues
Livestock markets also have record-keeping responsibilities. According to the USDA Uniform Methods and Rule, a person who delivers sheep where they will be mixed with sheep from a different flock-of-origin, must ensure the animal is identified to its premise of origin. The person receiving those animals is also required to ensure such identification has taken place.
Producers are encouraged to do their own tagging before the animals leave the farm. Sutton says if unidentified animals move through the system, anyone who handled the animals, including the producer, the trucker, the market and the dealer may be held responsible and may be fined. A good rule-of-thumb is do not buy or sell an unidentified sheep unless it is under 18 months-of-age and moving through a slaughter channel.
Veterinarians and slaughter facilities are mandated to report any suspicious clinical signs of scrapie. And all 50 states have a Consistent State agreement addressing how they will work with USDA to eradicate scrapie, including the implementation of intrastate identification requirements.
So compliance is everyone?s responsibility, from new lambs to cull ewes for slaughter and everything in between.
When voluntary compliance fails, enforcement takes place. Sutton says fines have been levied for non-compliance in amounts up to $14,000 in the case of repeat offenders.
Logan says "It?s time that folks know they need to comply with the rules. They need to comply so their state can maintain a Consistent State status and so we can meet the overall goal of preventing the spread of scrapie. Enforcement must have enough teeth to encourage that compliance."