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USDA Quarantines "Mad Sheep"

There's a debate brewing over whether some sheep pose a health threat to Americans. The government is set to destroy three flocks. But the farmers who tend them say the sheep are pure as snow, and the government has gone mad.

The farm's in Vermont--not Britain. The animals are sheep--not cows. But the fear of the US government is familiar--worried about a sheep-version of "mad cow" disease. It wants to destroy this flock.

Farmer Larry Faillace of Faillace Family Farms says he's outraged, upset and let down, "it's like you really can't depend on the government at all."

Faillace owns 120 of the sheep--condemned not because they do have "mad cow" disease, but because tests show they could.

"I realize it's a really emotional thing to the owners," says Dr. Linda Detwiler of the US Department of Agriculture. "While we're sympathetic to the owners, …we've got to look at this big picture."

The big picture was painted five years ago in England where cows started turning up sick with a neurological disease. More than 50 human deaths were traced to meat from the cows. The worry is that these sheep ate feed made from sick cows.

Larry Faillace says, "Killing a flock of perfectly healthy and valuable sheep is not the way of protecting the American public, and they know it."

Faillace imported these sheep from Belgium for their extraordinary milk capacity. His tests show the sheep are clean. Slaughtering the sheep, he says, is the government's payback for European Union restrictions on American cattle imports.

"This is a form of retaliation against the E.U.," says Faillace, "and it’s not going to be some foreign disease that’s going to kill our sheep. It’s going to be politics."

The government wants to slaughter by Friday and is promising fair market value for the sheep.

"We’re charged with keeping our livestock healthy," says Detwiler. "So to take that risk to introduce it into the livestock and subsequently the public, I think, in this case, this action is very warranted."

But for this Vermont farm family, it's not about money. Once again in America a rural community feels strong-armed by the government and tonight, it seems there's nothing Larry Faillace can do to save his flock.

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