USDA urges sheep producers to turn to tags
Scrapie costs U.S. producers $10 million a year
By DEAN REA
For the Capital Press
Oregon sheep producers received a pep talk recently encouraging them to help eradicate scrapie by tagging sheep.
The ear tags are critical in tracing the origin of sheep that may be infected with the disease in the United States, said Brianna Wilson, a USDA veterinary medical officer who spoke during last month's Linn-Benton Livestock and Forages breakfast meeting.
After an internal review last spring, the federal agency decided to increase its efforts to share information about its programs to a broader, more diverse audience in Oregon.
"The reason for the push is good news," Wilson said. "We were down to less than 0.02 percent of sheep and goats that had scrapie."
However, closing that gap requires full compliance with the program, she said.
While scrapie is not a huge threat to people, Wilson said that it is a fatal, degenerative disease that affects the central nervous system of sheep and goats. It is most common among blackface sheep breeds, primarily the Suffolk breed.
The disease normally does not show up until an animal is about 2 years old, Wilson said.
Because of the "mad cow" scare in Great Britain and concern for continued world marketing of sheep products, the USDA initiated the eradication program. It is estimated that the annual cost of scrapie to producers is $10 million to $20 million.
That figure does not count losing export opportunities on the international market. The ear-tag program makes it possible to trace the herd where the disease originates, Wilson said. Some sheep are exempt, but generally those 18 months or older are required to be tagged or tattooed.
Audience members said that costs associated with tagging large herds and accounting for sheep at auctions and at slaughterhouses are a major concern.
Wilson suggested that tagging lambs while they are being wormed or castrated may be more cost-effective.
Wilson, who works primarily in southwest Oregon, said that "Oregon is going in the right direction" in complying with the federally mandated eradication program. The tags are free and can be ordered by calling the USDA toll-free number 866-873-2824.