From the Flock

May 1

May 2010 Scrapie Canada Update

Testing for scrapie on the farm is an excellent way of monitoring for the disease. Producers enrolled on the Scrapie Flock Certification Program are required to complete brain testing on all on-farm deads over the age of 12 months. But even if you’re not enrolled on the program, scrapie brain testing is valuable disease control measure.

If you are not on the SFCP and would like to complete brain testing, you can do so through the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) National Scrapie Surveillance Program. Testing is paid for through this program, so producers don’t have to foot the bill. Other logistics of the program vary across Canada depending on the CFIA District Office; however, in some regions the CFIA will come directly to your farm to collect the samples. To get samples tested through the CFIA program, producers should call 1-800-442-2342.

When I talk to producers about scrapie brain testing, I am often asked the same follow up question: “what if one of the test results comes back positive?” My answer to this question is twofold. Firstly, of course there is a chance that a test result could come back positive, but if you have scrapie on your farm it’s only a matter of time before you know it anyway- even if you never test.

Secondly, the CFIA’s disease control measures for a positive scrapie test have changed over the years and this is good news for producers. Years ago, when a positive scrapie case was confirmed on the farm it meant depopulating the flock/ herd. Now, because of advances in genetic testing, depopulating animals is only one component of the disease control process.

When scrapie is confirmed on the farm, the CFIA will quarantine the affected flock/ herd. The process hereafter is different depending on if you are a sheep producer or a goat producer.

For sheep producers, all sheep under 12 months of age are sent for slaughter. Mature sheep over 12 months old are genotype tested to determine the animal’s relative susceptibility to scrapie. Sheep of the most susceptible genotype will be ordered destroyed and brain tested. If additional positive cases are detected through the brain tests, sheep with the next most susceptible genotype will be ordered destroyed and brain tested. The process then continues like so. This means, depopulation depends on the results of the genotype tests and in some cases full flocks do not have to be destroyed.

When scrapie is confirmed on a goat farm, unfortunately, genotype testing is not an option. Scientific data on genotype testing goats has not provided any repeatable studies that document any codon variations in goats that are associated with a high risk of scrapie. In light of this, genotyping cannot be used as a risk management tool in goats. All goats less than 12 months of age are sent for slaughter and all goats over 12 months of age are ordered destroyed and brain tested for scrapie.

Whether scrapie is confirmed on a sheep farm or a goat farm, compensation is available for all animals ordered destroyed by the CFIA.

High risk areas around the infected farm (ie: lambing and kidding areas) are required to be cleaned and disinfected. Once the CFIA has released a flock from quarantine (when it is declared no longer to be an infected place), the producer must submit all on farm mature deads for scrapie surveillance for a period of five years (testing and sampling, if necessary, are provided by the CFIA). Although it is not mandatory, the producer may choose to use this as an opportunity to enroll in the SFCP.

As part of the disease control, the CFIA locates, tests and possibly destroys any potentially exposed sheep/goats that have moved off of the infected farm in the five years previous to the diagnosis. Flocks/ herds from which breeding females have been bought over five or more years prior to the diagnosis are investigated by the CFIA as potential sources of the infection.

As Scrapie Coordinator I have had the opportunity to speak with producers who have been involved in a positive scrapie case either as the farm of origin or as a trace out. The common message that I hear from these individuals is no farmer wants to get scrapie but if it’s there, it’s there and eventually you’ll find out. They’ve also explained that it is an emotionally and financially devastating experience to go through no matter how it’s handled. I have had more than one producer tell me that the CFIA in their region were excellent to work with, professional, compassionate and worked very hard to make a terrible situation better. Producers have also said that compensation paid for destroyed animals was fair.

For more information about RB and/ or scrapie, please contact Scrapie Canada at 1-866-534-1302 or

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Scrapie Canada's Project Partners

Canadian Sheep Federation

Canadian Sheep Breeder’s Association

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Canadian National Goat Federation

Canadian Food Inspection Agency