For the Love of Goats
If you’ve ever thought about importing goats from another country, today’s episode is for you. Buying a goat from across the globe is not nearly as simple as buying a goat from across the country.
There are a number of restrictions and testing required for goats, depending upon which country they are coming from, and Dr. Mary Kate Anderson, Staff Veterinary Medical Officer at the USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, joins us in this episode to talk about everything you need to know before importing goats or sheep into the U.S.
We talk about rules for importing live animals, as well as sperm and embryos. Dr. Anderson also discusses some of the recent rules changes that actually make it easier to import goats, so if you looked at this option a few years ago and gave up, now is a good time to revisit it.
If you want to learn more about selling goats to people in other countries, check out our episode on exporting goats.
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For the love of goats! We are talking about everything goat. Whether you’re a goat owner, a breeder, or just a fan of these wonderful creatures, we’ve got you covered. And now, here is Deborah Niemann.
Deborah Niemann 0:19
Hello, everyone, and welcome to today’s episode. For those of you who are not content with all the goats that we have here in the United States, and you’ve thought, “Wow, I wish I could bring in some goats from another country,” today’s episode is for you!
Deborah Niemann 0:33
We are joined by Dr. Mary Kate Anderson, who is a staff veterinary medical officer with the USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, Veterinary Services. Welcome to the show today!
Mary Kate Anderson 0:47
Hi, Debra, thanks for having me.
Deborah Niemann 0:48
Great to have you here. This will be really interesting, because I’ve never imported goats into the United States. So, I really have zero personal experience with this. So, for anybody who’s thinking of doing this, for some reason, I thought this would be a really great opportunity to talk about exactly what the rules are. And they just changed a little bit, and they’re going to be changing a little more, so I thought this would be a really good time to talk about it.
Deborah Niemann 1:10
So, like, we have rules within the U.S. You know, if somebody wants to go between states—especially, like, if one state is certified TB-free and another one isn’t—there’s some rules and stuff with testing that have to happen. So, if somebody wants to bring goats into the United States from other countries, they can’t just call up somebody, and send them the money, and say, “Hey, ship this goat over to me.” What do they need to do?
Mary Kate Anderson 1:35
So, that’s right. They can’t just have somebody ship in the goats. So, there are import requirements in place for the import of all livestock from outside the U.S. So, sheep and goats are no exception to that. And essentially, before an animal is eligible for import into the U.S., we in APHIS need to have the disease status for that particular country established. You know, so for sheep and goats, we’re thinking about things like tuberculosis, brucellosis, scrapie. And then, just as a general procedure, typically APHIS will be involved with discussions with the animal health authorities in that other country, negotiating input protocols, health certificates… So, all those things kind of have to be in place before a country’s even eligible to export sheep and goats.
Mary Kate Anderson 2:30
Like you said, there have been some changes recently that have made it a little easier to import sheep and goats and their commodities from some areas of the world. You know, I can talk a little bit about those changes. In January of just this past year, 2022, there was a final rule pertaining to the import of sheep, goats, and certain other ruminants that was published. The rule had been pending for a number of years, going through the typical regulatory review process prior to approval. And now that it’s been finalized, it is affecting the import of live sheep and goats and their germplasm—which is semen and embryos—and their associated products. So like meat, other byproducts, that may be eligible for import now.
Mary Kate Anderson 3:19
I work with Veterinary Services on the Live Animal Import unit. So, I’m able to speak specifically about the import of the live animals and germplasm. So, up until the time of the published rule, sheep and goats had been subject to BSE restrictions. So, BSE is “bovine spongiform encephalopathy,” or mad cow disease, which had resulted in very limited import eligibility for those animals. I mean, really, we were looking at live breeding sheep and goats being eligible for import from places like Australia and New Zealand that are free of classical scrapie and negligible risk for bovine spongiform encephalopathy. And then, certain groups are eligible for import from Canada—our immediate slaughter sheep and goats—and then animals that were intended for restricted feeding for slaughter. So, since the time that those BSE restrictions were issued, there have been a number of studies that have been performed that actually have indicated that there’s very low risk of BSE transmissibility in sheep and goats. And those findings support the conclusion that BSE really isn’t a huge concern in those animals.
Mary Kate Anderson 4:35
However, there’s another spongiform encephalopathy that is of great concern in sheep and goats, which is scrapie. So, what the rule essentially did was removed those BSE-related import restrictions on sheep and goats and most of their products, and added import restrictions related to scrapie, essentially. So, what that did was update the import requirements. Now we have things that we can implement pertaining only to scrapie for those animals, and it kind of aligned our regulations with the internationally accepted, you know, scientific literature and what’s been established by kind of the World Organization for Animal Health.
Mary Kate Anderson 5:21
So, just a general overview of of the rule, and how it changed imports in a general sense, and resulted in this newfound eligibility for certain categories of sheep and goats to now be imported into the U.S.
Deborah Niemann 5:38
Okay. So, if somebody is going to import sheep and goats from a country that is certified free of scrapie, they can now do that. And is there any additional testing or anything required?
Mary Kate Anderson 5:51
So currently, there’s only two countries that are considered by APHIS to be free of classical scrapie, and that’s Australia in New Zealand. So, live sheep and goats from those countries would potentially be eligible for import. But, what the rule has done was create avenues for the import of sheep and goats from countries that are not free of classical scrapie. And there are, you know, certain things that have to happen before a country would be eligible to export. You know, APHIS does a scrapie equivalency evaluation in that country, you know, to assess their their scrapie program. And once that evaluation is performed, you know, based on the findings, then APHIS is able to negotiate with that country on the specific details of the import protocol and health certificate. So, you know, again, the rule is focusing a lot on scrapie, but any kind of import protocol or health certification that we would negotiate would also include additional, you know, mitigations for other diseases of concern, like TB, brucellosis, and just general animal health.
Deborah Niemann 6:59
Mary Kate Anderson 6:59
So at this point, Canada is currently the only country that’s undergone that scrapie equivalency evaluation. And it’s been completed. And we actually recently just finished our negotiations with Canada. So now, breeding sheep and goats are eligible to be imported from Canada if they meet certain import eligibility criteria.
Deborah Niemann 7:22
Okay. What would the criteria be?
Mary Kate Anderson 7:24
So, there’s three potential categories of animals that are eligible. The first are for sheep and goats that are part of a Canadian herd or flock that has met certified-plus status in a Canadian scrapie flock certification program. So, you know, similar to the scrapie program that we have here in the U.S., the CFIA, or Canadian Food Inspection Agency, has a list of the flocks and herds that are enrolled in that program on their website. And it also has a current status of each enrolled herd or flock; I believe it takes a minimum of seven years for a flock to obtain that certified-plus status. So, if a sheep or goat is coming from one of those flocks or herds, then they’re eligible for import into the U.S.
Mary Kate Anderson 8:16
The other category of animals that would be eligible are male intact sheep, or rams. And they can be imported based on genotype—you know, genotype being their genetic makeup. Certain codons that confer scrapie resistance in those animals. So, make them more resistant to to acquiring scrapie. There are specific genotypes that are accepted for those rams. And genotype testing has to be done either at the U.S. National Veterinary Services Lab—which is NVSL—or at another laboratory that’s been USDA approved to perform that testing.
Mary Kate Anderson 8:59
And then, the third group of animals that may potentially be eligible for import are, again, female sheep or male sheep that have kind of different genotypes that confer some degree of scrapie resistance. Those don’t have a blanket approval; they have to be evaluated by APHIS, you know, prior to allowing that, but there is that potential. You know, at this point, the allowance for import based on genotype only applies to sheep. And really, that’s just because there hasn’t been sufficient research or studies performed on goats at this time and, you know, what specific genotype confers scrapie resistance in those animals. You know, but as time goes on and additional scientific research findings are obtained, we’ll be able to kind of reevaluate that status in the future if it’s appropriate.
Deborah Niemann 9:30
Okay. So, it sounds like Canada’s program for export is very similar to ours with scrapie. We did a show on that—I think it’s about a year ago—with Dr. Gaiser, talking about scrapie and export requirements and how to become a certified flock or herd so that you can export. And so, it sounds like Canada pretty much has to do the same thing now. Like, if we wanted to bring in sheep or goats from Canada into the U.S., they have a similar program where the herd can get certified scrapie-free after seven years. Does that sound pretty accurate?
Mary Kate Anderson 10:27
Yeah. So, it is a similar process; they have a similar program to what we have. So it’s not exactly the same, but largely the same.
Deborah Niemann 10:36
Okay. That’s interesting, because until we started this conversation, it never really occurred to me that it would be at all challenging to import sheep or goats into the U.S., because I was always focused on what a challenge it was to export goats. Like, we just can’t, because of the scrapie thing, you know? Unless you’re a certified flock. But really, we’re just as picky, where we were even luckier than other countries when it came to letting goats and sheep into this country.
Mary Kate Anderson 11:03
Yeah. We had… I mean, pretty much it wasn’t happening, you know, on a routine basis. And it was because of the restrictions that were imposed on them were all BSE-related. And even though, you know, since the time that those initial BSE restrictions were put in place, there had been changes in regards to bovine—so cattle, bison, those animals—and how they were classified according to BSE, those changes never applied to sheep and goats. So, they were kind of just, like, left in this restricted category. And this rule kind of removed all that restrictive language and has now replaced it with something that’s more applicable to them.
Mary Kate Anderson 11:44
Yeah, so this is really the first time that this has been an option for countries other than Australia and New Zealand.
Deborah Niemann 11:51
Okay. So, if somebody wanted to bring in goats or sheep from another country, then, what would kind of be the first step in terms of making that happen?
Mary Kate Anderson 12:01
So, before a country is eligible to export live sheep or goats to the United States, they would first, as I said, need to undergo that scrapie equivalency evaluation that’s performed by APHIS. And that’s done by our Small Ruminant Health Commodity staff; they would evaluate the program. And then, based on those findings, we would then negotiate specifics for the import protocol, export health certificate, with that country. So, those main things would have to happen before import would even be a possibility from a given country. And, you know, we talk about scrapie as being one of the major diseases that we’re concerned about. But, you know, foot and mouth disease is also a big one. And currently, sheep and goats—any ruminants—from a foot-and-mouth-disease-affected country are not eligible for import. So, we’re looking at sort of a small subset of countries that would be eligible just based on that. And then they would have to undergo these additional, you know, evaluations prior to being able to move forward with any kind of import of those animals.
Deborah Niemann 13:10
So, other than Australia and New Zealand and Canada, then, there’s not, like, another list that says, “Oh, yeah, you can import sheep and goats from these countries.” They would have to contact APHIS, and then you would have to do the evaluation on that particular country. Because, it just hasn’t been happening. There hasn’t been any importation of sheep and goats for, like, what, more than 20 years now?
Mary Kate Anderson 13:32
Yeah. Breeding sheep and goats, at least, for sure. That’s exactly right. So, what typically happens is, the other country would contact APHIS; say, “We’re interested in,” you know, “opening this market;” and then we would, you know, initiate that preliminary process. And yeah, as you said, right now, it’s really Australia, New Zealand and Canada for the live sheep. And, you know, looking at germplasm, semen and embryos—embryos, specifically. Because semen has always had a higher level of eligibility for import. Negotiating for embryo imports, as well, will also be increasing as a result of this rule.
Deborah Niemann 14:10
Is it easier for people to import semen or embryos?
Mary Kate Anderson 14:14
So, there are more countries that you can import those commodities from. So, sheep and goat semen—and this was actually before the rule—was eligible to be imported from Australia and New Zealand, of course, but then also Canada, the EU, Iceland, and the UK. And then embryos, again, similar: Australia, New Zealand, and we actually are discussing with the UK potential options for importing embryos from there, as well. So, I don’t know if I’d say it was easier, but depending on where someone’s looking to import from, it could be easier than a live animal.
Deborah Niemann 14:58
Okay. Yeah, because I’ve heard—mostly with sheep—I’ve heard of quite a few people who imported semen or embryos from sheep from the UK, because we have a lot of breeds in the U.S. that started in the UK. So, a lot of us were like, “Oh, we want to get some of those original UK genetics in here.”
Mary Kate Anderson 15:16
Yes, so that’s definitely an option. So, like I said, semen, not much has changed with the rule. There was lots of eligibility prior to its publication. But, sort of the market for embryos, now, potentially is larger, based on on the changes that have happened.
Deborah Niemann 15:32
So, it just popped into my head that since Mexico is also very close to us, geographically, that would be one of the least expensive places for people to import from—just from a transportation point of view. Does Mexico have any specific concerns in terms of importing animals from there that you know of?
Mary Kate Anderson 15:51
So, we haven’t undergone any type of evaluation with Mexico at this point. You know, that could be something that may happen in the future, but it’s not actively occurring at the moment. And, you know, it’d be similar concerns as we would have with with other countries with TB, brucellosis, scrapie, and then potentially, you know, locally, other diseases of concern. So that’s not something that’s happening actively at the moment, but it is definitely something that could be in the future.
Deborah Niemann 16:21
Right. Yeah. Well, it makes sense. I mean, there are hundreds of countries in the world, so it makes sense that you’re not going to take the time to evaluate them until there’s somebody who actually wants to import animals from those countries.
Mary Kate Anderson 16:35
Yeah. And it has to be that country’s competent authority that requests that evaluation. So, they have to be willing to undergo that evaluation and, you know, wanting to move forward with the process. So, that’s kind of what initiates everything.
Deborah Niemann 16:50
All right. So, is there anything else that people should know before they decide that they want to try to import goats to the United States?
Mary Kate Anderson 17:00
Yeah, so our website provides a lot of information, because there is a lot to know about these imports. So, that is a great sort of initial resource for people to go to. And, you know, aside from just the general requirements that we’ve discussed today, there are, you know, additional things that any importer would need to be aware of, especially for live animals—live breeding animals. There are post-entry requirements that have to be met. And those are all kind of outlined on the website, just to give people an idea of what would be required if they wanted to bring these animals in.
Mary Kate Anderson 17:39
So, our website is a great first resource. And then, you know, obviously, we’re available—our Live Animal Import team—to answer any questions and help people sort of navigate the process. You know, especially, this is kind of new for everybody. It hasn’t, like you said, been something that’s been going on. So, you know, they can always email us, call us, and we can answer any additional questions that they have.
Deborah Niemann 18:05
Okay, great! Well, thanks so much for joining us today. This has been very interesting. And if there’s anybody out there thinking about importing goats, I’m sure that they found this really helpful.
Mary Kate Anderson 18:16
Oh, great. Thank you so much for having me! It was a pleasure speaking with you.
Deborah Niemann 18:21
And that’s it for today’s show. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to hit the “subscribe” button so that you don’t miss any episodes. To see show notes, you can always visit ForTheLoveOfGoats.com, and you can follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/LoveGoatsPodcast. See you again next time. Bye for now!