About CSP


NY Scrapie Genetic Testing


Nathan L. Rudgers, Commissioner

Jessica Chittenden
Immediately, Monday
February 7, 2005


New Eradication Program Uses Genetic Testing on Rams

State Agriculture Commissioner Nathan L. Rudgers today offered free genetic testing to any sheep owner to further advance the States ongoing efforts to eradicate the ovine disease, scrapie.   The free testing is made available through the New York Ram Project, a new plan aimed at enhancing flock resistance to scrapie in New York by conducting genetic testing on rams.

Scrapie costs American sheep producers an estimated $25 million annually,the Commissioner said.  By knowing the genetics of their breeding animals, producers can knowingly breed more resistance to scrapie in their flock.  More resistance to scrapie means healthier animals, more profitable producers and moves us a step closer to eradicating this fatal and devastating disease that has challenged our industry for so many years.

Research has shown that certain genes in the DNA of sheep play a role in the development of scrapie. A simple DNA test from a blood sample can reveal the resistance or susceptibility of sheep to scrapie.  Rams have the greatest impact for the development of scrapie resistance and are therefore the focus of New York Ram Project.  There is no genetic test available for goats at this time.

New York sheep producers who wish to have their rams tested should contact their local accredited veterinarian to schedule an appointment before September 15, 2005.  The Department will reimburse veterinarians $25 to cover the cost of sampling and testing. 

Funding for this program is being provided by a grant from the United States Department of Agricultures Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, Veterinary Services (USDA-APHIS-VS).  Funding is limited and offered on a first come, first served basis.  Testing is limited to six rams per flock. Testing must be completed by September 15, 2005.

There are two other programs available to sheep owners that address the ongoing concern for scrapie.  The Scrapie Eradication Program surveys cull animals at slaughter to identify infected flocks and helps fund the clean-up of infected flocks.  The Voluntary Scrapie Flock Certification Program monitors flocks over a period of time to certify flocks scrapie-free, enhancing the marketability of animals.

In New York, the Department has worked cooperatively with USDA APHIS to eradicate scrapie by issuing official identification tags to producers to use when selling animals from their flocks and communicating with producers and veterinarians on new information regarding scrapie and associated eradication efforts.

Scrapie is a fatal, degenerative disease that affects the central nervous system of sheep and goats.  It has been recognized in the world for more than 250 years and in the United States since 1947.  It is among a number of diseases classified as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE) and caused by the ingestion of prions, infectious proteins.

The name scrapie was coined from sheep trying to relieve the intense itching it causes, which results in sheep scraping off their wool.  Sheep and goats can both be infected with scrapie at a very young age, but may not show symptoms of disease until two to six years of age.  Symptoms may include: weight loss, excessive itching, loss of coordination, and abnormal behavior.

In 2003, APHIS determined the prevalence of scrapie in mature U.S. cull sheep to be 0.2 percent or one positive out of 500 cull sheep.  Australia and New Zealand are the only two countries in the world to be recognized as scrapie-free.

New York State has 1,700 sheep farms with an inventory of approximately 75,000 sheep and lambs and 3,000 breeding rams, with a combined value of $9.5 million.  Cash receipts from the sale of sheep and lambs in New York in 2003 totaled $2.5 million.



Jessica A. Chittenden
Director of Communications
NYS Dept. of Agriculture & Markets
10B Airline Drive, Albany, NY 12235



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