State extends quarantine of farm indefinitely

May 14, 2006|By MARY GAIL HARE | MARY GAIL HARE,SUN REPORTER

State agriculture officials have extended indefinitely the quarantine at a western Carroll County livestock farm while state and county officials work with the owner on several health and animal-welfare issues.

The state imposed a 30-day ban on the sale, slaughter or transfer of animals or animal products April 1.

Officials have inspected the 112-acre farm in Marston, owned by Carroll Schisler Sr., 59, and his son, Carroll Schisler Jr., 33, several times since then.

"The quarantine is extended indefinitely through the process of compliance," said Sue DuPont, a spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture. "We are working with the farmer to make sure no tainted products are sold to consumers. This is an ongoing process with a lot of different agencies involved to protect humans and animals. There is no end date for the quarantine."

To further complicate the situation, tests on a malnourished pig that died after it was taken from the farm during a raid last month, revealed trichinosis - a disease caused by a parasitic worm, Trichinella spiralis.

The disease is not spread from person to person, but consumers who purchased pork products from the farm should cook the meat thoroughly or avoid eating it.

"We are working to determine the magnitude and seriousness of trichinella," said Dr. Guy Hohenhaus, state veterinarian. "It is possible that a large number of animals on this farm are infected, and these animals cannot enter the food chain. This parasite is almost nonexistent in commercial operations."

On two raids of the farm - March 8 and April 1 - federal, state and county agents discovered decomposing carcasses, piles of bones, livestock feeding on rotting trash and the decaying bodies of other animals. Swine feeding on garbage or carcasses would be prone to trichinella, Hohenhaus said.

The Schislers also raise cows, goats, chickens and pigs, and occasionally other animals such as llamas or emus. Feral pigs, which are more susceptible to infection, also move freely on and off the farm, officials said.

"The feral species poses a threat to agriculture and raises concerns from the standpoint of public health as well as porcine welfare," Hohenhaus said.

Several generations of Schislers, who have retained an attorney and have not made themselves available for comment, have been involved in farming for decades.

They have operated a custom slaughterhouse on the farm that caters to buyers interested in the preparation of meat along religious and ethnic lines. The quarantine has shut down that largely unregulated business.

The case has drawn the ire of animal-rights organizations, who have contacted the office of Carroll County's state's attorney. Many have argued for shutting down the Schislers' operation.

"Those who would horribly mistreat animals and foul the environment should not be allowed to continue operating in Maryland," said Peter Wood, deputy manager of the Humane Society of the United States. "Allowing animals to die and rot in pens with those still living is not farming, it's cruelty. Failing to remove piles of trash, bones and decomposing carcasses is not good stewardship, it's criminal. Why the state of Maryland would opt to work with such an operation instead of shutting it down is beyond us."

Hohenhaus said he and other officials will continue working with the farmers.

"We have had some cooperation, and we are looking forward to more," he said.

Officials from the state departments of Agriculture and Health and Mental Hygiene, the Carroll County Health Department, the Carroll County Humane Society, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are involved in the investigation.

"We are working with the state to come up with a concerted, coordinated action to deal with the conditions we found on this farm," said Charles Zeleski, deputy director of Carroll's environmental health bureau.

The state police and the county Humane Society are investigating allegations of animal cruelty, defined under the state criminal code "as the unnecessary or unjustifiable physical pain or suffering caused or allowed by an act, omission, or neglect, and includes torture and torment."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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