Armed federal agents on March 23, 2001 seized the second of two flocks of dairy sheep suspected of carrying an ailment related to mad cow disease in a dawn operation that brought an end to a 9-month legal battle over the animals' fate.
The government said the sheep pose a threat to the US food supply and has been fighting in the courts to seize them since July, when several tested positive for transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE), a class of degenerative neurological disorders that includes scrapie -- which afflicts sheep -- and mad cow.
The owners of the sheep claim the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) tests were flawed, but the courts have consistently found for the government.
The move by the USDA followed the March 21 seizure of another flock of sheep in Greensboro, Vermont, and highlighted the agency's determination to act decisively to head off any risk that mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), could be introduced into the United States.
USDA agents, acting in compliance with a court decision, arrived at the farm of Larry and Linda Faillace, who own the 154 sheep, shortly after 6 a.m. and took up positions.
USDA staged the raid as Europe struggles to cope with the rapid spread of foot-and-mouth disease, which has led governments to destroy tens of thousands of cows, sheep and pigs.
The outbreak of foot-and-mouth coincides with Europe's creeping epidemic of BSE, whose human form, known as new-variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, has killed more than 80 people in Britain and Europe.
There has never been a case of BSE in the United States.
The flocks were imported from Belgium and the Netherlands in 1996. They were quarantined in 1998 after US agriculture officials learned that sheep from Europe were likely exposed to feed contaminated with BSE.
East Warren, Vermont, March 23, 2001