Questions Over Scrapie Testing Protocol Raised During Ontario Sheep Rustling Trial

Adherence to testing protocols for scrapie and correct identification of an animal have been called into question during a court case involving individuals who are charged with taking and hiding quarantined heritage breed sheep destined to be destroyed as part of Canada’s scrapie eradication program.

The protocols and identification in question stem from a 2009 positive scrapie test attributed a ewe at an Alberta-based farm. The ewe was born in Ontario, at the farm of Linda “Montana” Jones.

Scrapie is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy of sheep, in the same family as BSE of cattle and CWD of elk and deer, and is a reportable disease in Canada.

Jones, and raw-milk advocate Michael Schmidt, are currently facing charges for their role in moving and concealing sheep under Canadian Food Inspection Agency quarantine in 2012. A third party, Suzanne Atkinson, a former ag reporter from Ontario, earlier pleaded guilty for her role in moving the quarantined sheep from Jones’s farm to Schmidt’s. Robert Pinnell is also charged in the proceedings.

Related: “Missing Sheep Case Draws to a Close” via the National Post

The pre-trial hearings began this week, and several documents brought forward spurred defense attorney Shawn Buckley to send a lengthy email to crown attorney. Real Agriculture has received a copy of this email, included the documents in question.

At issue is a written report, dated January, 2011, by then-CFIA investigator Mark Murdoch (now retired), which calls into question the validity of the original scrapie test in 2009. In the report, Murdoch states that the sampling was done by the farmer, not a vet, and that proper protocols can’t be verified. What’s more, Murdoch points to evidence that the chain of custody of the sample could not be verified; the sample arrived at the final lab destination in a different container from what the original sample was collected in.

The defense says, in the email to the prosecution team, that the original positive scrapie test stems from a U.S-sourced ram and not the ewe born on Jones’s farm at all. If that’s the case, the original quarantine placed on Jones’s farm in 2010 shouldn’t have happened. That quarantine is said to have led to a “false positive” of another of Jones’s ewes in 2012, according to Jones. At that time, the vet was called for a pregnant ewe in distress, but not exhibiting signs of scrapie. The ewe died and was tested for the disease, and was found to be positive, according to the CFIA. Jones contends the sheep did not have scrapie and has tried to verify the positive using a third-party lab.

The defense for Jones and Schmidt has requested reports and paperwork concerning the case that it says the CFIA has but has not released to the defense. The judge sided with the defense this week and has ordered the CFIA to hand over the requested documents. The pre-trial hearing is now stayed until late April, 2015.

CFIA offers the following information regarding scrapie testing. There are two ways samples may be collected:

1) Samples from on-farm deadstock for scrapie surveillance testing may be collected and submitted by a producer, veterinarian or CFIA inspector.
2) Samples from on-farm scrapie suspects (animals identified as having clinical signs compatible with scrapie) or from animals ordered destroyed due to risk of exposure to scrapie must be collected by a CFIA inspector.
CFIA also states, in an email to Real Agriculture, that the “goal of the scrapie surveillance program is to identify infected animals, so that steps can be taken to eradicate the disease from Canada.” Those steps are as follows.
When scrapie is suspected, the premises are immediately placed under quarantine, the suspected animal is ordered destroyed and its brain and lymphoid tissues are tested by the OIE (World Organization for Animal Health) Reference Laboratory for Scrapie in Canada.  Scrapie is then either confirmed or ruled out.

If scrapie is confirmed on a premises via CFIA approved testing, the Agency carries out an extensive investigation which involves:

  • determining the premises where the infected animal could have contracted the disease
  • determining on which premises the infected animal could have spread the disease
  • determining which animals on those premises are at a high risk of developing scrapie, and
  • ordering their destruction

Real Agriculture was told a CFIA spokesperson would not be made available on the topic of Mark Murdoch’s 2011 report.

For more information on scrapie surveillance in Canada, follow this link.

 

Lyndsey Smith

Lyndsey Smith is a field editor for RealAgriculture. A self-proclaimed agnerd, Lyndsey is passionate about all things farming but is especially thrilled by agronomy and livestock production.

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14 Comments

Shawn McRae

Thank you Lyndsey, for reporting on this important story. And thanks too, to RealAgriculture for publishing. The CFIA is often considered a bullying bureaucracy and here’s some fine evidence. People have been illegitimately jailed and jobs lost, after desperately attempting to protect healthy livestock and private property from confiscation and destruction. I hope the court brings these facts to light, delivers appropriate punishment to those responsible, and compensates the victims accordingly.

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Karen Selick

Thanks for your coverage of this story. I am the litigation director for the Canadian Constitution Foundation, which is defending Montana Jones and Michael Schmidt with the assistance of counsel Shawn Buckley. Needless to say, fighting leviathan is expensive. If sympathetic readers would care to assist these farmers with their legal fees, they can donate through our website at http://www.theccf.ca. The CCF is a registered charity that defends civil liberties. Donations are eligible for tax credits both in Canada and the U.S>

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Jamie MacMaster

Thanks Lindsay. If more of our journalists had your kind of curiosity and courage the little folk in Rural Ontario wouldn’t have to worry about rogue agencies like the CFIA and the OSPCA.

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Patric Lyster

Once again i see that some media people would rather print their biased opinion, rather than searching out facts. Many questions come to mind, such as why Ms. Jones has refused an offer, at no cost to her, to do DNA testing to verify the link of the scrapie positive ewe, found through the voluntary scrapie monitoring (which allows for samples to be collected by a producer). Or perhaps why she fails to correct the media when they erroneously report that CFIA destroyed her whole flock. Interestingly, she had sheep that she was selling after the others had been destroyed. Where had she hid those ones, or were they never ordered destroyed (the latter being the fact)? Who is the scrapie expert that determined the positive case from her farm was not showing symptoms of scrapie. Just for a little information, death is a symptom of scrapie (guess what the ewe died on her farm, so it showed a symptom (however Ms. Jones seems to purport herself an expert on scrapie, but fails to know that simple fact of death being a symptom, in my opinion that shows just how little of an expert she is). One might also ask why Ms. Jones asked CFIA to add the sick ewe to their order for destruction, if she didn’t want any of her sheep destroyed? Was she trying to get government compensation for her sick dying ewe?

Where do they come up with the sample being from an imported USA ram? The sample was matched to 2 offspring of the initial scrapie positive ewe, 1 of which is still alive today. That would prove that she was a Shropshire. Interestingly, I have not had any imported USA Shropshire rams die, so not sure how a sample from a Shropshire ewe could be from an imported USA ram, as the only test that is accepted is on brain tissue from a dead animal. Now is she insinuating that perhaps the sample came from a Shropshire ram imported from California? Not sure, but perhaps she should also tell everyone that she imported a ram from California, from the same farm and really closely related to the ram I imported from there.

One might wonder why a tattoo was an acceptable means of identification to register sheep and to identify them when Ms. Jones sold them, but isn’t when one tests positive? One might wonder why, when she is so adamant about needing the national sheep identification tag number to identify the ewe from her farm, that when she registered sheep later (even with a space for optional recording of the national tag number on the registration form) that she only identified them by tattoos? In my opinion, one might start to question why things only seem to be important when it suits Ms. Jones and are totally irrelevant when they suit her.
Ms. Jones will try to say I know nothing about the case, but contrary to that, i know enough, that one of her lawyers has emailed me asking for information. So if i do not know anything, please explain why they would be asking me for information? I can also provide evidence of where one of Ms. Jones lawyers and Ms. Jones herself has lied, publicly. One might wonder why they would be telling lies to the public. One might also ask why they want full disclosure, which includes confidential business information from my business, when lawyer Karen Selick had to find out from an outside source, that her client hadn’t even given her full disclosure, in my opinion, One might ask why Ms. Jones defense should have any access to my trace in and trace out information, when it took years before Ms. Jones would provide CFIA with trace in and trace out information. I am thinking that they should have to wait at least as long as it took Ms. Jones to provide the information to CFIA. Maybe they should ask if Ms. Jones will plead guilty, if they provide the information. I mean, it only seems fair when Ms. Jones and her lawyer, in a letter her lawyer made public, tried to use Ms. Jones’ trace in/ trace out information to attempt to get CFIA to reconsider.
One might also really wonder, why Ms. Jones, who claims she wanted her sheep kept alive, failed to take an offer from CFIA, which would have allowed the ewes to remain alive for about 2 years. If one thinks about it, would this not have allowed time to fight the order of destruction, while the sheep were still alive? If preserving the genetics and the animals was so important, why would one not try to fight while the sheep were alive? In my opinion, it is because then it would not been as sensational and it would have been much harder to get public donations to pay things like legal fees, mortgage payment (as claimed by Ms. Jones on facebook), and feed for the sheep.

In my opinion, there are way too many inconsistencies in what is reported and the facts. I also believe that there is and has been a lot of media manipulation by certain parties. As evidenced by your report and the comments asking for more funding, by one of Ms. Jones’ lawyers, it appears, in my opinion, that facts have little relevancy as long as it keeps the case in front of the public. In my opinion, it is unethical to lie to the public and at the same time ask them for money to support you.

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Lorri Nelson

Have you received a copy of Murdoch’s report? Can you verify that? I would like to point out that sample collection from dead stock by the farmer is perfectly valid and the CFIA trains producers in how to collect an uncontaminated sample. Producers who are on voluntary surveillance are perfectly capable of taking a sample, as happened in this case. The bigger question is, have you considered your source before you print this stuff? The defense says the positive case was from a US born ram. The defense says? So in your eyes, it must be true? I truly think journalism has taken a real nose dive of late, and this case is a perfect example. All over the internet we see this story plastered, and you are just like all the others. Jones et al hand you a prewritten story, and your work is done for you. Instant story. But the problem is you don’t bother to verify anything before you print it. This whole thing about the scrapie positive sheep being a US ram? And the second case being a false positive? Proof. Verification. Evidence. Where is it? Lastly, I would like to point out that all this smoke-and-mirrors in the courtroom has absolutely nothing to do with the charges. These people are charged with obstruction and conspiracy and breaching a quarantine. The sheep was not misidentified by the Alberta producer. Only the CFIA can comment on what happened after he sent in the sample. But that has absolutely nothing to do with the charges. Can you say red herring?

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Lyndsey Smith

Yes, we have the full report from Murdoch. We are not passing any judgement on the merits of the case, only reporting on what came to light and what is being considered in the court case.

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Lorri Nelson

Only reporting on what came to light? Oh, I see. What came to light in the courtroom. But you never bother to maybe get the other side of the story. Because apparently nobody realizes there ACTUALLY IS another side to this story. The side of the producer who did not misidentify the sheep, did not mix up any samples, did not mis-label the sample. The producer sent in a sample, with no idea it was going to come up a positive. So all the implications and innuendo implying that he was somehow setting Jones up is just more smoke-and-mirrors. People need to realize, very often a case simply is what it appears to be. The second positive at Wholearth also is what it is. It is easy for Jones to say it is a false positive. That’s what she and her defense team do, they simply run around pointing fingers at everyone else, and accuse everyone else of incompetence, distracting from the real story- that a quarantine was breached, regardless of the moral righteousness they seem to think they have on their side. But it all makes for a good story, right? So let it run. The other side of the story is not so sensational, doesn’t have all the right ingredients- the poor victim, the big bully, the government steamroller. Well, perhaps you should consider what this has done to other sheep producers, particularly the one she keeps throwing the blame back to. You want another good factoid? On the CCF blog, Karen Selick says that the scrapie positive sheep was missing the ear tag. That is absolutely untrue. But they say whatever they want. Why don’t you do some digging, and get the whole story, instead of just parroting what you hear from a clearly biased source?

Patric Lyster

Then where is your report on what CFIA has presented as fact from the prosecution side? I think it is a very one-sided view, rather than a presentation of what is being considered. The fact is there are a number of facts that seem to get left out in almost all reports. CFIA is bound by confidentiality and thus they cannot comment publicly. That in itself allows for the defense to throw around many things that are not necessarily factual, but rather, in my opinion, just information to try to mislead the public and perhaps the judge. I, on the other hand, am not bound by confidentiality so perhaps you would like to come interview me and look at a number of things that Ms. Jones and one of her lawyers, have put on the internet or said to reporters, that are not true. Ms. Jones has continued her attack on myself and my farm’s reputation. It is becoming apparent that I am likely going to have to seek legal action to address the issue. Reporters, like yourself, who keep putting out stuff, trying to say that sample was misidentified, keep questioning my integrity. If you wish to do that, you better have hard evidence, otherwise you are also liable for defamation of character.

The fact is the sample I submitted was from a Shropshire ewe WHE 24S. That tattoo belonged to the ewe purchased from Montana Jones farm. When submitted, i had no way of knowing that the sample was positive. Subsequently, the sample was dna matched to offspring. Ms. Jones tries to deny the ewe came from her farm, she claims that since the national identification tag number wasn’t recorded by CFIA, that the ewe wasn’t from her farm. Interestingly, she has failed to use that same tag to identify the sheep when she sold it. Just like she failed to use the national tag numbers when she registered sheep after the quarantine started. In fact, one might really wonder about her registrations from July of 2012. She registered a number of sheep that were dead and a number of them were ones that had been stolen. The “farmers Peace Corp” claimed the tags had been made unreadable, so how could those have been identified by Ms. Jones for registration purposes? She only recorded tattoos (interestingly the same means of identification used for the sample from the scrapie positive ewe from my farm, Wholearth Alder 24S, WHE 24S). Please realize that when you register a sheep you claim that they are clearly identified by either tattoo or dual national eartags (when identifying by tattoo, there is an option to also record national identification tag number as well). Other questions arise, such as why did Ms. Jones, on numerous occasions, lie and claim to the public that her sheep were all registered when in fact numerous ones were not registered. Why would Ms. Jones register dead sheep? Was it perhaps to try to get compensation for them from the government, based on a program that she, through lawyer Karen Selick, condemned saying that it paid farmers for their sick dying sheep? It, in my opinion, is incredible how you can condemn a program and then turn around and try to get compensation through that very program. One, in my opinion, might also start wondering, how much income was Ms. Jones actually getting from her sheep flock, prior to the quarantine. According to records from the Canadian Livestock Records, she sold less than 20 animals that she had registered. That would seem to be very minimal, considering she had been raising them for 12 years (I think that is what she claims). For confirmation of the numbers, you might like to go to Canadian Livestock Records Corporation website and get to the sheep search page. Once there just type in Wholearth and find all the sheep she ever registered. Then you can check each one to see who the owner is/was, as most are dead. By the way, the numbers she actually transferred registration papers on, is much closer to 14. I personally purchased some from her, one of which she never transferred the papers for (a violation of the animal pedigree act). Regardless of that, i personally know what I paid and based on that, it would, in my opinion, show that sales of registered sheep didn’t contribute very much to her farm income. When one considers other facts that appear from the sheep registrations, one perhaps might start to wonder, what happened to the other sheep that she had registered, and in particular the dam and grand-dam of WHE 24S. Why would ewes (which are still not recorded as dead on the CLRC records) not have been alive in 2010? The dam of WHE 24S would only have been about 6 and her dam only about 8. That seems a little odd, when Ms. Jones claims her sheep live to much older ages than that. Now here is a real interesting tidbit, that you might wish to research, scrapie is very often (the highest incidence of infection is this way) transmitted from a ewe to her lamb(s). In my opinion, it might be coincidence but yet 2 ewes never made it to old age, never produced very many registered offspring, leads to the question why? Now. also check out the symptoms of scrapie. One of them is death. So now, please tell me that no sheep on Ms. Jones farm has ever shown a symptom of scrapie. Her again, we see evidence of how Ms. Jones is either lying or doesn’t know the symptoms of scrapie, since she claims none of her sheep have ever shown symptoms of scrapie. Oh, and don.t forget the ewe that died on her farm and tested positive. Regardless of whether she wants to argue the positive result, the ewe died (a symptom of scrapie). I am not saying all deaths are from scrapie, but rather just stating a fact, that one symptom of scrapie is death.

Perhaps, you might ask the lady who claims my flock has lost all breed character, why she used an imported American ram (full brother to a ram I imported)? She not only used him, she registered progeny and then grand-progeny. So lets see, when she uses those genetics in her flock, it is okay, but when I mate a ewe from her flock to a full brother to her ram, i lose all breed character. She is willing to say my flock has lost all breed character, when she has never seen my flock and she seems to not know my bloodlines either. Interestingly to note, she purchased and used a ram sired by a ram I raised. Was she trying to lose breed character? Interestingly, I have never had a judge at the national show and sale, who said my Shropshires lacked breed character. So , one might start to wonder why Ms. Jones wishes to post information defaming myself and my flock. Is it because she knows the facts, and knows that I know a lot of them. Therefore her only hope is to discredit myself, otherwise she has to admit that the fact is Wholearth Alder 24S (tattoo WHE 24S) is the ewe that died on my farm and subsequently tested positive for scrapie.

This post is my opinion, which also contains numerous facts. I have lots of evidence of Ms. Jones defaming comments (it might also be noted, that Karen Selick was emailed a number of times with the defaming comments pointed out, so is aware of what her client was doing) and I am not going to idly stand by and allow her to ruin, or attempt to ruin my reputation. If you are serious about writing the facts about this case, you might just start looking into the facts, rather than just what the defense is trying to use, in my opinion, for the excuse to break the law. I do not believe, that there is any questioning the fact that Ms. Jones knew her farm and sheep were quarantined. One would have to question how the “thieves” would know what sheep to steal, especially when they left almost the same number on the farm, as well as the fact that the number stolen was different than the number ordered destroyed. Also, in my experience, the list of animals ordered destroyed is not public, so how come the “thieves “did not get a few sheep not on the list. One might question the story of the sheep being sorted when one considers that the morning after the sheep disappeared, there was a protest being held to attempt to stop the destruction. Why would Ms. Jones sort the sheep off, which would make CFIA`s job easier and faster, if she was trying to delay the destruction? These are some of the facts that you might consider reporting. Much like asking why the number reported stolen, in at least one case, did not match the actual number missing. Did the person giving the details not know, or was it an oversight in using the numbers on the order of destruction, forgetting that some were already dead. Oh and still a very important question, why was Ms. Jones trying to get a sheep added to the order for destruction? Isn’t that a little contradictory? Her wanting to get a dying sheep added so she could get paid for her sick dying sheep, in my opinion just shows people the truth. In my opinion, it shows Ms. Jones was in favor of the scrapie compensation which is a part of CFIA`s scrapie program.

Lyndsey Smith

To clarify — the blame of a botched test is being put on the CFIA, not the producer. Also, it should be noted, that repeated questions to CFIA have been returned with a “a spokesperson will not be made available to you.” Again, this post reflects what occurred the court case last week and is not arguing the merits of the case, the scrapie program or the competency of the CFIA.

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Patric Lyster

You can speak for yourself, i am not so sure you can speak for the view of the defense or one particular CFIA inspector. In his Murdoch report, which you might have received in a brown paper envelope with no return address. Wonder if those are sent to reporters by the prosecution or someone else?

Anyhow, in the Murdoch report there is a quite damning statement in regards to the initial testing. I will first address one major issue with Inspector Murdoch`s conclusion, never once in my email is the word “usually“ used. Secondly, I was never asked how I took a specific sample, but rather for what my procedures were for scrapie surveillance. I wonder why Inspector Murdoch, who wasn’t present at my place and wasn’t on the phone for my conversation with Dr. Nakonechny-Kostiuk, whom requested the email, would be attempting to discredit myself. Or is the information that I have, which comes from a Buckley Law Office letter, misleading. Perhaps since you have a copy of the full Murdoch report, you could make sure that the statement in the made- public email letter from Shawn P. Buckley Law Corporation to Damien Frost is word for word or if it is altered. Interested because it clearly shows, in my opinion, an attempt to blame the producer.

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charlier64

This seems to me to be a very one sided report of the defense guessing game. A plea for publicity alone to generate donations to the accused’s defense fund. I don’t think this should be published while the trial is not concluded. You can report the FACTS when it is all said and done.
We have to remember that the last reporter was also biased, in that she ended up pleading guilty to sheep-napping the portion of the flock that was hidden from CFIA.
**btw: the whole flock was not destroyed.**
This trial is a criminal case to decide if the defendants were guilty of sheep-napping while the flock was under Quarantine. Posting partial unverified facts and opinions from the defense just doesn’t cut it for me. What ever happened to reporters checking FACTS and not posting opinions as if they were facts? Is there no integrity in journalism any more? Seems not.

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Lyndsey Smith

It is stunning to me what many of you have assumed is my bias on this case. This isn’t an opinion piece, nor have one of you asked me what my opinion is … not that it matters, as this is a news item, not an opinion. The information I’ve summarized here has been verified to the extent that I can — without CFIA agreeing to speak to me, I can only verify so much, but, yes, I have documentation to verify what was brought up outside of court, not within the court proceedings.

Please note, I did not use the sheep producer’s name in the post, he willingly added his name and his comments here. Nor does this post in any way refer to the producer being at fault — the documentation sent to me calls the CFIA’s methods and process into question, not the sheep producer’s.

I recognize that this is a very emotional and heated case, but I’ve only recently been introduced to it, and I’m updating the case as new information comes to light. Mr. Lyster has done a very thorough job of making his side known — and I’m the one who approves the comments, so if I didn’t want that shared, I could easily have deleted it.

Also, I’ll state that I don’t believe this is the place to be asking for funding to support a cause, but, again, I do my best to let the comment section go on uncensored, though I do remove or delete comments from time to time if deemed inappropriate.

Thank you all for reading and following along. My email address is [email protected] and I’m always open to story leads, discussions or comments. But I do ask that you not assign me a bias that I assure you does not exist.

— Lyndsey

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P. Menzies

One of the comments of the story is that the ewe which died of pregnancy toxaemia and subsequently tested positive for scrapie, did not have signs compatible with scrapie but died of pregnancy toxaemia. As a veterinarian, I would like to inform readers that one of the most common signs of scrapie is weight loss due to a reduced appetite. Pregnancy toxaemia occurs in heavily pregnant ewes which are not consuming sufficient energy to supply energy to their growing fetuses. Scrapie could certainly cause this. Neurological signs are not always evident in all cases.
Understanding the science of the actual testing protocols, i.e. what constitutes a positive test – would allay fears that the scrapie test was a “false positive”. To be confirmed as positive, the tissues must be positive on two tests used in parallel. Both these tests have very high specificity, i.e. extremely low rates of false positives. Special stains are used on the brain tissues to actually visualize the accumulation of abnormal prion protein. International protocols are used to determine positives and are set to be extremely rigourous.
Please remember. Scrapie is an infection which can be eradicated from a country. The sheep industry of Canada wants it eradicated and has stated so very clearly. The CFIA program of surveillance and removal of genetically susceptible scrapie-exposed animals works to detect and eradicate scrapie. Lets get it done!

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