by SUSAN MANN
It isn’t clear if heritage Shropshire sheep breeder Montana Jones will receive any compensation after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency confiscated and euthanized a number of her sheep on suspicion they may have scrapie.
And now Jones, owner of Wholearth Farmstudio located near Hastings in Northumberland County where for the past 12 years she has been breeding Shropshire sheep to maintain a heritage bloodline tracing back to the late 1800s, is fighting to save her farm. She wants the operation to continue as a heritage breed organic farm that’s opened to the public. It would in part educate people on the need for sustainability and agricultural diversity.
But Jones says she has received the first step towards a foreclosure notice from her bank. “If I am able to stop that (the foreclosure), that is my hope and then turn the farm around.”
On Sunday, Jones and others will host an outdoor gathering on her farm to raise money to save her operation. More information on this event is at: http://LifeStock.ca .
As for how much money she hopes to raise, Jones says “I have no idea. It’s so hard to tell.” She also couldn’t say how many people may turn out for the event but “people have been so supportive and encouraging.”
The proceeds “will go directly to the bank so that I get on my feet,” she explains.
In organizing the event, one of the goals of Jones and raw milk advocate Michael Schmidt, who has spoken out against the CFIA’s killing of the sheep, is to form a non-profit organization and board to be a voice and to host future fundraising events to raise money for farmers faced with unjust government treatment. Currently there isn’t a group like this in Canada.
“We think we have choices as far as food and farming and agriculture go but it has been eye-opening to see how little choice we do have and how much the government is controlling things for us,” she says.
Jones figures the CFIA owes her more than $40,000 in compensation but the genetics she’s lost are irreplaceable. The compensation is entirely at CFIA’s discretion and they can “say you get nothing,” she explains.
CFIA declined to talk about compensation for Jones. Suzi Beck, CFIA media relations coordinator, says in a Sept. 27 email that due to privacy reasons “we are unable to discuss the specifics on any case including compensation.”
But in general terms CFIA bases the compensation amounts for animals ordered destroyed on the animal’s market value to a maximum amount stipulated in the Compensation for Destroyed Animals regulations, Beck says.
The farm was placed under quarantine almost two years ago after a sheep that originated from Wholearth and was sold to an Alberta farmer tested positive for scapie. Another sheep that died on the farm this spring also tested positive. There aren’t any human health risks associated with scrapie but it has serious impacts on sheep and goats and CFIA aims to eradicate it from Canada. The sheep and goat industry fully supports that goal.
Jones says there are questions about where the scrapie-positive sheep that originated from her farm contracted the disease. About the second sheep that tested positive, Jones challenged those results.
CFIA officials returned to the farm Sept. 22 and took four lambs and euthanized them because they were deemed to be genetically susceptible for scrapie. These lambs weren’t tested because they are under 12 months of age and there isn’t a valid test for animals under 12 months old. Nine sheep were also removed and euthanized by the CFIA in late April. They all tested negative for scrapie.
She used to have 75 animals. Now she has eight ewes, three lambs and two rams.
Jones’ troubles are further complicated because she says she may be facing charges under the Health of Animals Act, including obstruction, removing an animal in quarantine and conspiracy, in connection with the disappearance of 31 sheep from her quarantined farm in April just before they were to be euthanized. A group calling itself the Farmers Peace Corp claimed responsibility in a hand-written note left in the barn and also said the sheep were taken without the owner’s knowledge or consent.
Twenty-six of her sheep and 11 lambs were later located at a farm near Chesley in Grey County and all were euthanized. They all tested negative for scrapie. Five sheep of that group of 31 are still missing and Beck says CFIA hasn’t located them.
The investigation is ongoing so CFIA cannot comment further, Beck says in a Sept. 28 email.
In early August, the farms of Jones, Schmidt and two others were searched and a number of items were seized. Jones says from her farm, officials took things that were outside of the scope of their search warrant, such as personal tape recordings of her dad and her before he died, along with other items within the warrant such as her computer and sheep related records from March 23 to Aug. 2.
Beck says Jones’ farm remains under quarantine until she cleans and disinfects it to address the risk of scrapie transmission from the environment. BF