WASHINGTON (CN) – The government must designate witnesses who can explain to farmers why the U.S. Department of Agriculture allegedly slaughtered hundreds of healthy, valuable milking sheep, the Court of Federal Claims ruled.
Farmers claim that the government told them their sheep were infected with a made-up disease – deemed an “atypical transmissible spongiform encephalopathy of foreign origin” – in order to “justify their slaughter as a pretext for maintaining the appearance that the United States was free of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), a TSE commonly found in cattle.”
The USDA “seized and destroyed germ plasm, gourmet cheese stock, crops, buildings, cheese-making equipment, and other business-related assets,” their lawsuit claims.
Farmers say the alleged infection was “neither an actual nor a scientifically recognized disease.” Even if their sheep were infected, they claim the USDA’s drastic action was arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion. Additionally, the farmers say they were never paid a fair market value for their sheep.
They served the department with a deposition notice, but the government allegedly balked. It later claimed that deposition on some of the topics would be “unnecessarily duplicative,” as government witnesses had already been deposed on those issues. Plaintiffs agreed to narrow the scope of their questioning if the government designated witnesses to respond to their queries, including the basis for diagnosing their sheep as infected and the price other shepherds received for their rams. The USDA turned down the deal.
Judge Sweeney ordered the government to designate witnesses, but first chided both parties for the combative discovery process. The situation would have been “wholly avoidable if discovery had been conducted in a more cooperative manner and had not been hampered by opposition at nearly every possible turn,” Sweeney wrote.