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 with Rob Miskosky

Have We Dropped the CWD Ball?

“Thousands of CWD-infected animals are being consumed by hunters and their families across North America every year. Even a single transfer to a person – proving that humans are susceptible – would bring catastrophic consequences with limited options.” – from a letter to the federal government signed by 30 doctors, researchers and advocates, June 2019.

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) has taken center stage in North America with serious concerns of the disease infecting humans.

Many North American jurisdictions, including Alberta, where CWD prevalence continues to increase (several Wildlife Management Units [WMUs] in Alberta have a prevalence over 20% in male mule deer), are searching for ways to control its spread. Unfortunately, each year in Alberta, that spread continues, as we continue to see more WMUs added to the list where it is mandatory to submit the heads of harvested animals for CWD testing. For 2019, WMUs 128, 140, 226, 244 and 501 were added to the list.

Should we start culling deer again?

For me, there is only one proven way to control the spread of CWD and that is with an extensive cull program, such as what we once had prior to public outrage – or, more truthfully, hunters and outfitters demanding the stop of the cull in their hunting areas and rallying the public behind them.

When the cull began, CWD was not endemic to Alberta; however, after the cull was ended in 2008, CWD rapidly spread and it now is endemic in our province. Primarily, all we are doing now is tracking its spread through hunter harvest.

Realizing that most emerging zoonotic diseases have come from animals, the risk of CWD infecting humans is very real. If it were to be realized, a cull of incredible magnitude would take place and hunting as we know it would end. Should CWD enter the agricultural chain, the same would apply.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) “enforces policies and standards, set by Health Canada, governing the safety and nutritional quality of all food sold in Canada.” The CFIA’s website recommends, “...that any tissue that may have come from a known CWD-infected animal not be used or consumed by humans.”

“Since the CFIA’s original CWD eradication program started in 2000, the North American CWD picture has changed dramatically. Wild and farmed cases of CWD have continued to increase despite the CFIA’s aggressive attempts to eradicate it.”

Yet, the CFIA has admitted that since 2014, elk meat from 21 elk herds where CWD was confirmed have been slaughtered for food that entered the food chain. Those animals that were released to the food chain tested negative for CWD, however, the CFIA admits that a negative test doesn’t necessarily mean an animal isn’t infected.

What is wrong with this picture? In stealing a line from Back to the Future... “Hello, McFly?”

In 2019, to July 31, there have been three domestic cervid herds confirmed to be infected with CWD, all from Alberta. One elk farm and two white-tailed deer farms. Locations and names of the farms are not disclosed on the CFIA’s website. However, the CFIA says that no “infected” meat from these herds has entered the food chain.

But what about those animals from the same herd that were not infected?

Written in the Alliance for Public Wildlife paper, The Challenge of CWD: Insidious and Dire, “Current policy and apathy toward the levels of CWD consumption by people has been described as ‘one of the most outrageous human susceptibility experiments in history.”

Is it time to fire up the choppers? ■

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