Current Issue of Acres U.S.A./Sample Article
      A Three Shepherds Farm Update
      Staff Report
      January 2003, Acres U.S.A.

         Panic, paranoia and head-in-the-sand medicine has long been a USDA worldview, near-Torquemada perfection of the approach being achieved under the administration of veterinarian Linda Det-weiler. Torquemada, by way of reference, was the Spanish Inquisitor whose certainty about heaven and hell caused him to wring confessions out of errant Christians and nonbelievers for the good of society. Detweiler is USDA's first line of defense against anything that makes the headlines anywhere in the world - this line of defense usually being annihilation of the herd to confirm suspicion. That the approach is about as effective as drawing a line between smoking and nonsmoking sections in a restaurant, the fact of diffusion of air being overlooked.
         After a costly legal battle (see "Under Siege," Acres U.S.A., December 2000), sheep belonging to the Three Shepherds Farm in the Mad River Valley of Vermont were seized on March 23, 2001, in response to an outbreak of Mad Cow disease in England and parts of Europe. Detweiler and associates figured that since the East Friesian milking sheep came from Europe, the probability of prion infection - if that phrase can be used - was great. East Friesian sheep are valuable animals, each worth something in the neighborhood of $6,000.
         Biased government enforcers hip-deep in snow trundled the animals aboard a train for the long ride to Iowa, the killing room and laboratory examination.
         One year later, the results still were not in. Any reputable laboratory can have answers in six hours, a fact that Larry Faillace, the owner of Three Shepherds Farm, pointed out to Acres U.S.A. recently. Tissue samples kept on ice for a long period become worthless as far as honest science is concerned, with a so-called false positive the expected readout.
         The Iowa facility held on to the tissue for several months, then the materials were farmed out to an Ames, Iowa, laboratory. Two tests were prepared. One was the IHC, and histopathology was also performed. Both tests were completely negative on all animals involved. Had the sheep been cattle rather than political animals, they would have been pronounced clean.
         Sovereign bureaucrats never admit a mistake. Consequently, the samples were retained another six months. In December 2001, one Dr. Rubenstein - who harvested the first results, ran more tests. These also proved negative.
      Negative results, however, were politically unacceptable. By tinkering with the protocols and allowing freezer storage to effect its slow deterioration, what appeared to be a positive result was achieved. Even then, in his report to USDA, Rubenstein explained that what he really saw was due to the age of the tissue.
         Last April, a report was released that two animals tested positive. No data was released, only press conference gibberish.
         The Faillace legal team asked for the actual data. In compliance with the law, it was released, allowing the facts recorded above to finally be assembled.
         It is well known that tissue samples test out of the norm when icebox aging becomes a factor. Dr. Bruno Oesch of Prionics AG, the company in Switzerland that does most of the European testing, said "false positives" as soon as the American procedure was explained to him. To avoid incorrect results, he said, he and his colleagues knew they must handle tissue samples right away.
         The USDA, confronted with Dr. Oesch's statement, had a spokesperson respond, "We stand behind our test results." This person did not say which test results the "behind standing" referred to.
         Through all this, veterinarian Linda Detweiler - who ordered the preemptive strike on the sheep - has kept a discreet silence.
         Compensation, required by law, has been forthcoming only in a token way, the Three Shepherds Farm being paid mutton prices for line-bred East Friesian sheep. The 125 animals had a market value of over $6,000 per head. Total compensation has been $215,000 - less than $2,000 per head, actually just $1,720 per head.
         Area growers who surrendered their animals meekly as required by bureaucracy were compensated at the rate of $6,000 to $9,000 per animal. The bureau answer to all this was, "You decided to fight us. That's why you're getting paid less." In other words, go along with the masters of government or be put in your place. The idea of a farmer standing up to their betters cannot be tolerated.
         A documentary film on the Three Shepherds Farm affair is going forward, and will soon be available. The one-hour film will cost $50. Orders and donations are now being taken by the REAP-Sheep Project, 108 Roxbury Mountain Road, Warren, Vermont 05674.
         In the meantime, the Three Shepherds Farm is continuing to make sheep cheese, relying on local producers for milk. One supplier is the Von Trapp Farm, which is operated by the son of Werner Von Trapp, one of the children portrayed in The Sound of Music. Cheese is not the farm's only specialty - the Faillace family also runs a small store on the farm which sells locally produced farm products.
         Importation of new sheep, even semen, seems out of the question, according to Faillace. To do so would mean working with USDA, a difficult if not impossible project. "You can't trust what they tell you," Faillace told Acres U.S.A. "You can't make business decisions based on information they give you." When lies stack up like cordwood, correct decisions become impossible, Faillace in effect charged.
         The furor over Mad Cow - bovine spongiform encephalopathy or sheep scrapie - has died down, the conventional origin of the mutated prion protein more or less discarded, replaced by the near-certainty that reckless use of Phosmet created the mischief in England and parts of Europe. The veterinary art that asks for the herd to be depopulated to control disease epizootics has graduated into politics, which now attempts to sell the idea of preemptive strikes against political infection.