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USDA seeks input on plan to eliminate scrapies

Unless you’re part of the sheep or goat industry, you’ve probably never heard of scrapies.

The industry and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are fine-tuning efforts to make sure you never hear about this fatal, degenerative disease that affects the central nervous system of sheep and goats.

Now, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or APHIS, has extended the public comment period on the APHIS proposal to update its longstanding drive to stamp out scrapies to Dec. 9. The proposal includes:

  • Changing the risk groups and categories established for individual animals for flocks.
  • Simplifying, reducing or removing some recordkeeping requirements.
  • Giving more options and flexibility in testing animals.

The Denver-based American Sheep Industry Association, which represents nearly 80,000 U.S. sheep producers, generally supports the proposed plan, says Paul Rodgers, deputy director of policy for the association.

Among other benefits, the proposal “makes it a little more clear on how they’ll handle flocks when there’s an infection discovered — what animals are quarantined, which ones aren’t,” he says.

The association didn’t request the extension until Dec. 9. But the proposed changes are complicated, and some people potentially affected by it apparently felt they needed more time to analyze it and comment on it, Rodgers says.

Scrapies — related to bovine spongiform encephalopathy, better known as mad cow disease, and chronic wasting disease of deer — was first discovered in the U.S. in 1947.

A program to eradicate scrapies began in 1952, an effort that has been improved and enhanced over time. One example: Some sheep are more susceptible to scrapie than others, so genotyping can be used to identify genes that control scrapie susceptibility or resistance. As a result, USDA adopted genetic-based testing to clean up flocks in 2003.

Today, the incidence of scrapies is less than one-tenth of a percent, Rodgers says.

“They’ve made marvelous progress,” he says. “We’ve gotten rid of most of it.”

To get rid of what’s left, to eliminate scrapies entirely, is like “looking for a needle in a haystack,” he says. “But I really think they can do it.”

For more information on scrapies eradication, visit eradicatescrapie.org.

To submit comments on the proposed APHIS changes, visit regulations.gov.

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