…CFIA’s intent to annihilate the Wholearth flock of Shropshire sheep owned by Montana Jones is deeply troubling. Without credible tests that empirically prove the existence of scrapie, to proceed with the planned extermination is both unscientific and tyrannical…”
— farmer/author JOEL SALATIN
“A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.” —Edward R. Murrow
Dec 8, 2011—Hastings, Ontario—The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has elected to destroy a healthy flock of rare heritage breed Shropshire sheep at Wholearth Farmstudio, a Northumberland County farm that conserves heritage livestock genetics. If the 44 animals are killed, the breed will be several steps closer to extinction with only 107 registered breeding females, 38 ewe lambs and 16 rams remaining in Canada. At one time the Shropshire was the preferred sheep breed in North America, with over a half a million registered animals. The Wholearth flock bloodlines trace back to their 1882 descendants by way of the first Shropshire sheep imported here from England at the turn of the century.
Heritage breed farmer/shepherd Montana Jones has spent the last 12 years preserving their rare genetics and is alarmed that despite lab results proving her entire flock tested negative for scrapie, CFIA officials have decided to ‘depopulate’ all of her beloved QQ genotyped sheep. Sheep that have a QQ genotype are considered less resistant to scrapie, however that does not necessarily mean those animals would ever acquire it.
CFIA recently destroyed 50 sheep at Coyote Acres farm in Alberta, after discovering a scrapie positive sheep there two years ago. CFIA’s investigation team has no definitive answers as to the original source of the Alberta farm infection, but is now targeting the Ontario farm flock because the Alberta case was allegedly found in a sheep born in the Wholearth flock more than 5 years ago. It was one of many tissues submitted for testing and concerns have arisen surrounding possible misidentification. Scrapie is not a human health risk but can affect the productivity of affected sheep and the CFIA mandate is to eradicate the disease.
Scrapie is believed to be transmitted from an infected mother to its young via birth, especially if the lambs are genotyped QQ, although healthy animals have been known to pick up the disease from the birthing fluids and placenta of infected animals. Ms. Jones points out that two offspring from the positive Alberta sheep actually both tested negative despite one being a QQ, which contradicts the expected results. “There are more than a few unexplained questions,” she says. “If the infected Alberta sheep was indeed from my farm, there is a possibility it became infected in the five years since it left. CFIA has tested all my sheep and they’re all negative, I’ve never had scrapie signs nor symptoms, and my flock ewes are still lambing at 10 and 12 years of age when most commercial sheep are shipped out at 6 or 7. Even my foundation ram Miller possessed incredible longevity—I had to euthanize him because of arthritis, but the old boy still sired lambs that year, at 15 years of age. They’re robust and healthy.”
Genetically modifying sheep
“CFIA’s plan to slaughter every single QQ sheep is virtual genotype genocide,” said Jones. “It’s the government’s way of genetically modifying all future sheep for the commercial lamb industry—they know this flock is perfectly healthy. They’re oblivious to the fact Shropshires are Canada’s heritage livestock and almost extinct. They should be helping to protect them. Once these sheep are gone, we can never replace them.”
Even America’s best known farmer and agricultural activist Joel Salatin is upset by the possibility of their disappearance. “CFIA’s intent to annihilate the Wholearth flock of Shropshire sheep owned by Montana Jones is deeply troubling,” says Salatin, author of Folks This Ain’t Normal. “Without credible tests that empirically prove the existence of scrapie, to proceed with the planned extermination is both unscientific and tyrannical.”
“The Shropshire sheep is one of the most significant heritage breeds in Canada, with a great chance of making a comeback…if we let them become extinct its all over,” says Rare Breeds Canada Past President Dr. Tom Hutchinson of Trent University.
“Montana Jones has assembled some of the best, most ancient heritage genetics, so these are not just average sheep we’re talking about. This is an absolute genuine heritage Shropshire flock, and Canada cannot afford to lose it. To kill them based on suspicion with no proof or reason, is absolutely ludicrous. ”
The Wholearth flock includes the bloodlines from well-known sheep breeders Ed Jackson and Hugh Miller, whose great-grandfather John Miller imported the first registered Shropshires into Canada and is honoured in the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame. The Millers were among the most successful importers, breeders and sellers of pedigreed livestock in the 19th century and had a tremendous influence on the purebred livestock industry in the Western hemisphere.
CFIA has not acknowledged Ms. Jones proposal to implement a plan for a five-year surveillance and quarantine of the Shropshire flock on her farm. “It would be a win-win situation for rare breed conservation and for CFIA. These last remaining heritage genetics would be preserved, and monitoring would continue to prove that no scrapie exists here. They want to shoot my sheep first, ask questions later. These questions need to be answered now, or it’ll be too late.”
“The Wholearth flock is a potential source premise for the Alberta case, and we have the authority to destroy animals that are suspicious.” said Noel Harrington, CFIA’s senior staff veterinarian in charge of Terrestrial Animal Health. “Ms. Jones won’t be the first and won’t be the last disgruntled producer.”
“These are Canada’s sheep and they need help…they need a voice,” said Jones. “I’ve contacted Minister of Agriculture Gerry Ritz but heard nothing back. I’m asking people to call, write—whatever it takes to help stop CFIA from destroying this flock. They pose zero threat to other animals and people…to destroy an entire heritage breed is irrational and shortsighted—it’s just wrong.”