Linda Faillace and Farmageddon documentary producer, Kristen Canty, tell the unbelievable story of USDA corruption and government bullying on Infowars:
The U.S. Department of Agriculture sent armed federal agents to seize the flock of Larry & Linda Faillace claiming that the sheep they imported from Europe (with the USDA’s seal of approval), to their farm in Vermont, carried a disease similar to the dreaded BSE or “mad cow disease,” (a disease that had never and still does not exist in sheep). After months of surveillance–which included USDA agents spying from nearby mountaintops and comically hiding behind bushes, the animals were destroyed, the Faillace’s lives turned upside down, and millions in taxpayer dollars spent… all so that the USDA could show the U.S. meat industries that they were protecting America from mad cow disease–and by extension, easing fears among an increasingly wary population of meat-eaters.
Linda Faillace grew up believing that “anyone who got into the government, anyone who attained being a judge or was in the corporate world, that they were all to be respected.”
A notion she lost somewhere along the way when the government set out to destroy her and her family’s livelihood.
In the early ’90s, the Faillaces, then living in England, decided to follow their dream: Move to Vermont and establish a dairy sheep farm. Even though they didn’t have any farming experience, they did know a lot about livestock–with Larry having a PhD in animal science, and Linda working as a lab technician with Prof. Eric Lamming, advisor to the EU and British governments on mad cow disease.
The odds for success seemed good: Only 0.1% of sheep’s milk cheese consumed in the United States is actually produced here, mainly due to a lack of dairy sheep in the country. So they asked Dr. Roger Perkins of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) what to do about it.
“[He] was very excited,” says Linda Faillace. “He said, ‘The regulation for importing sheep is about to change, and it means the animals will only have to be quarantined for two months in the country of origin and one month in the U.S., instead of this long, drawn-out 5-year quarantine.’ So he recommended we contact embassies around the world and find out where the best dairy sheep were.”
After extensive research, the Faillaces finally found what they were looking for in Belgium and the Netherlands. “They had the highest-producing dairy sheep in the world. The average American sheep will give you about 80 lbs of milk in a lactation. . . the animals that they had were producing an average of 1,000 lbs and some went up over 2,500.”
For three years, the family worked closely with the USDA and Vermont Senator Leahy’s office to make their dream come true. When the regulations finally changed, Larry Faillace personally selected the best lambs from the best breeds–East Friesians for dairy and Beltex for meat–in the two countries and accompanied them on a cargo plane back to the U.S. They went through the required quarantine, and everything seemed fine.
The Faillaces’ children were just as excited as their parents to own a farm–and every one of them got to play an important role in the family business. Francis, 12, took over pasture management; daughter Heather, 10, volunteered to guard and milk the sheep; and Jackie, 9, showed interest in learning how to make cheese. The family even “imported” a Belgian expert for a two-week intensive workshop on cheese making.
“Things were going really well,” Linda Faillace remembers. “We had the animals, they were established on the farm. We started getting demand for the sheep from all over the world because the Beltex we had were the only Beltex outside of Great Britain, the Netherlands and Belgium. So we had customers from as far away as New Zealand and Mexico.”
Then, on July 14, 1998, Dr. Linda Detwiler, senior staff veterinarian at the USDA, showed up at the farm. “I naively thought she was there to congratulate us for doing such a great job,” says Faillace. Far from cheering her on, though, Detwiler asserted the agency was concerned that the sheep could be susceptible to mad cow disease from contaminated feed.
“We said, well, we knew where all the animals came from. We had feed records from all the animals, because having worked with Prof. Lamming. . . we knew that the suspected cause of BSE was meat and bone meal fed to animals. So we made sure that none of the animals came from farms that fed meat and bone meal, plus, this breed has never had scrapie.” (Scrapie, like mad cow disease, is a TSE, a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy.)
Detwiler indicated that “new information” would be coming out of Europe soon that would justify the USDA to seize the Faillaces’ sheep. Even though no such information transpired, the family’s flock was put under quarantine.
“When we were handed the quarantine papers, Wayne Zeilenga, who was the USDA vet for Vermont, said, ‘I don’t mean this as a threat, but if you tell anybody about this, you get greedy, ask for a bunch of money, or you go to the media, we will put you out of business. And don’t think it hasn’t been done before.’ It was enough to keep us quiet for a year.”
Nonetheless, the Faillaces decided to take action to convince the USDA that their sheep were disease-free. “In March of 1999, we flew over three European scientists to USDA in Washington,” says Linda Faillace, “and they presented all of their information and said, ‘This is the history of the animals, this is the research into BSE…’ Basically, they gave a 40-minute presentation, they opened it up for questions, and there was silence. And finally Linda Detwiler’s boss said, ‘I’m really sorry, but we’re under political pressure, and you’re going to have to surrender your animals.'”
Pressure from whom? The National Cattlemen’s Association, eager to show significant importers like finicky Japan ($4 billion worth of beef per year) that American meat is at no risk for BSE.
“[The] USDA has this incredible export market, and each country is ranked on what is the risk of having mad cow disease. And you have to answer all these different questions. One of the questions […] is: Do you have any animals which were imported from a country which had mad cow disease? Belgium and the Netherlands have both had mad cow disease, so they had to check it off. So USDA went after all the cattle that had been imported from Europe, and then they wanted to go after the sheep, so that they could check it off and say, ‘No, we don’t have any.'”
The family’s suspicions were confirmed when they approached Congressman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) for help and he said, “This a lot bigger than you know. Take the money and run.”
Yet the Faillaces weren’t shushed that easily. Refusing to give up their flock, they went to court, but the procedures were cut short when on March 23, 2001–a few weeks before their 2nd Circuit Court hearing–27 armed federal agents and 13 USDA officials raided the farm to remove the family’s 125 sheep.
The raid on the family farm was witnessed by international media and dozens of protesters. “The Vermont State Police showed up, and […] they pulled Larry and me aside and they said, ‘We’re here to protect you from them.'”
Linda Faillace says she smelled “something fishy” when she saw the USDA test results that claimed “that they found an atypical TSE of foreign origin. . . We shared them with my father, who’s a biochemist. . . There were no negative controls, there were no molecular weight markers, the negatives had been rerun and not the positives.” When the Faillaces demanded that the USDA rerun the test, the agency declined.
To this day, the Vermonters are still battling in court to get adequate compensation for their lost sheep from the USDA. So far they haven’t seen a penny.
“18 months after the animals were seized, USDA sent us a check and it was for $1,300 per animal. . . anyone that voluntarily surrendered their animals, USDA paid them anywhere between $5,000 and $10,000 per animal. […] So when we said, ‘Why the discrepancy?’, USDA said, ‘Well, you chose to fight.'”
Linda Faillace’s book Mad Sheep: The True Story Behind the USDA’s War on a Family Farm is a must-read–and a stark reminder for everyone who still follows the old “I didn’t do anything wrong, so nothing can happen to me” adage. Mad Sheep is the account of her family’s struggle against a bullying and corrupt government agency that long ago abandoned the family farmer to serve the needs of corporate agriculture and the industrialization of our food supply. Similar to the national best-selling book, A Civil Action, readers will cheer on this courageous family in its fight for justice in the face of politics as usual and the implacable bureaucracy of the farm industry in Washington, DC. Also, buy the Farmageddon documentary.