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USDA updates scrapie regulations, program standards

Updates include changing definition of scrapie high-risk animal and identification requirements.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health & Inspection Service (APHIS) announced March 22 that it is updating its scrapie regulations and program standards.

APHIS said these updates include several major changes that are needed to continue the fight to eradicate scrapie from U.S. sheep flocks and goat herds. Scrapie is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) disease that affects the central nervous system in sheep and goats and is eventually fatal. Other TSEs include bovine spongiform encephalopathy in cattle, Crueztfeld-Jakob disease in humans and chronic wasting disease in deer and other cervids.

The changes APHIS is making to update the program are supported by the sheep and goat industry and incorporate the latest science to provide APHIS with increased flexibility as the agency works with producers to get rid of this disease, the announcement said.

According to APHIS, scientific studies show that sheep with certain genotypes are resistant to or are less susceptible to classical scrapie and are unlikely to get the disease. Because of this, APHIS said it is changing the definition of a scrapie high-risk animal so that it no longer includes most genetically resistant and genetically less susceptible sheep. These animals pose a minimal risk of developing or transmitting scrapie, and by no longer considering them high risk, they will no longer need to be depopulated or permanently restricted to their home farm.

The updated regulations and program standards will give the agency’s epidemiologists and leadership more flexibility to determine flock designations and deal with scrapie types that pose a minimal risk of spreading, including Nor-98 like scrapie.

It also allows APHIS to determine, based on science, that additional genotypes are resistant without going through rule-making, the agency said. This will allow science and experience to guide decision-making as fewer and fewer cases are identified and the industry moves toward eradication.

APHIS said it is also updating specific identification requirements for goats and certain recordkeeping requirements for sheep and goats, which will provide increased animal disease traceability. The scrapie program provided traceability for certain classes of sheep and goats, but strengthening traceability, particularly for goats, is important. This rule will bring goat identification and recordkeeping requirements up to the level of the sheep industry and improve slaughter surveillance, APHIS said. Official identification will now be required for goats 18 months of age or older and for all sexually intact goats under 18 months of age moving for purposes other than slaughter or feeding for slaughter, with some exceptions.

APHIS said both the sheep and goat industries will see recordkeeping changes. Sheep and goats moving in slaughter channels will now be required to have an owner/shipper statement. This statement must include group/lot identification, unless the animals are individually identified with official tags.

APHIS said it proposed updates to the scrapie regulations and program standards in September 2015 and accepted comments for 90 days. APHIS carefully reviewed the comments and made adjustments to the rule and program standards to address the concerns raised.

This rule is on display in the Federal Register at https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2019-05430. It takes effect 30 days following publication in the Federal Register, with one exception. States will need to meet scrapie surveillance minimums to maintain their consistent-state status in the eradication program. If a state does not meet the sampling requirements at the end of fiscal 2019, it must provide APHIS with a plan within one year for coming into compliance and be in compliance within two years of the effective date of the final rule, APHIS said.

In its weekly newsletter, the American Sheep Industry Assn. said it is working with Dr. Cindy Wolf of Minnesota and Dr. Jim Logan of Wyoming to assemble more information on how these changes will affect American sheep producers. The organization said additional materials should be available in the coming week.

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