300 unregistered sheep must be culled
Two Gozitan farmers have already had half of their animals put down
A flock of around 300 unregistered sheep should be immediately culled in the interests of public safety and the milk industry, the Veterinary Department insisted yesterday.
In an application filed in the Gozo Court, the department’s director general, Anthony Gruppetta, called on the court to revoke an injunction issued last week that had stopped him from culling the remainder of a 500-strong flock.
He argued that any animal not registered with the department was automatically presumed to be sick because its roots could not be traced. This constituted a public health hazard.
In a separate application, the Attorney General, on Dr Gruppetta’s behalf, requested the court to hear the case with urgency and it has been appointed for hearing today.
Farmers Gianni Attard and Emmanuel Vella had not contested the fact that the sheep were unregistered.
But their lawyer Kevin Mompalao had asked the court to stop the Veterinary Services Department from culling any more of them after more than half – some of them pregnant – were put down.
In granting the injunction, Magistrate Josette Demicoli noted that the court case hinged on the interpretation of the regulations and whether unregistered animals were automatically presumed to be sick and therefore had to be put down.
Dr Gruppetta is now requesting the court to revoke this order, saying his action at the Għarb farm was legal and the court order was detrimental to public health because of possible contamination.
He noted that inspectors had found a large quantity of cheeselets on the farm.
Dr Gruppetta said under alaw that had been enforced for more than 30 years, any animal that was not registered with the department was automatically assumed to be sick as its origins were unknown.
Sheep, he said, were usually subjected to monthly tests for various diseases, including mad cow disease.
Since this disease could only be tested after the animal died, it was obvious that every animal whose roots could not be traced were suspected to be carrying such a disease.
Mr Attard’s sheep and the possible danger of his products were enough to affect consumer trust in all milk products, he maintained.
“The failure to destroy this flock could cause irreparable damage to the industry, which includes €2 million worth of animals and between €7 and €14 million worth of products.
“This apart from the multiplier effect of this industry,” he told the court.
Dr Mompalao countered that Dr Gruppetta would have done more good had he tested each and every sheep for the diseases he mentioned rather than insisting on culling them “at all costs”.
He said Dr Gruppetta’s latest application contained nothing new and was a repetition of the legal arguments made when the court upheld his client’s request for an injunction.
Dr Mompalao questioned the motives behind Dr Gruppetta’s actions and noted how Dr Gruppetta had insisted on having a police presence around the clock at his clients’ farm.
“It seems the director became obsessed about the culling of this flock at all costs and this latest request (to revoke a previous court decision) was an attempt at achieving this,” he said.
He added that testing the animals rather than “arbitrary culling” was what was expected of a veterinary department.