Federal response tightened for chronic wasting disease

Signs of CWD, as shown by this elk, include progressive weight loss, reluctance to move, excessive salivation, droopy ears, increased drinking and urinating and lethargy. (Wyoming Game and Fish Department photo, WGFD.wyo.gov)

Canadian ranchers raising cervids such as elk, deer and moose will soon have to get in on certification programs before they can be eligible for any federal help in the event of a chronic wasting disease (CWD) outbreak.

One of the transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) family of nervous system diseases, such as BSE in cattle and scrapie in sheep, CWD has turned up in 10 elk and deer herds in Saskatchewan and three elk herds in Alberta since the beginning of 2015 alone.

Efforts to eradicate CWD in Canada’s farmed cervids “have not been successful,” the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said Friday, describing disease management as “a shared responsibility.”

Thus, the agency said Friday, it’s rethinking the eradication policy it’s had in place since 2000, to instead “reduce the risk of the disease spreading by encouraging producers to adopt strong risk mitigation measures.”

Starting Dec. 31 this year, before a producer can get a CFIA response — which includes quarantine, herd depopulation and compensation — he or she will have to be enrolled in a voluntary herd certification program (VHCP), CFIA said Friday.

A VHCP requires enrolled producers to set up specific biosecurity measures and to comply with limits on what animals may be added to a herd, as well as ongoing surveillance testing of mature deadstock.

National standards have been in place since 2002 for VHCPs, which in Canada are overseen by third-party administrators under CFIA oversight. Those standards are being updated, the agency said, following consultations with the industry in 2015 and 2016.

A “transition period” will run throughout 2018 to give producers time to enroll in and complete 12 months in a VHCP, CFIA said Friday.

During 2018, cervid ranchers should contact the regional administrator of the VHCP available in their area and consider enrolling in a program, CFIA said.

From Jan. 1, 2019 on, CFIA’s response will only apply if the affected producer has been VHCP-compliant for at least 12 months, the agency said Friday.

According to the North American Elk Breeders Association in a separate statement Friday, any CWD-positive farms not in a VHCP under the new system would have “no movement restrictions or depopulation orders” but would not be eligible for any compensation either.

CWD-affected farms not in a program would have to manage the disease using a test-and-cull approach, the association said.

Found so far only in captive and wild cervids in North America, Korea and Norway, CWD was first seen in Canada on a Saskatchewan elk farm in 1996 and has since been “routinely” detected in Saskatchewan, with a few cases in Alberta, CFIA said.

All cervids slaughtered in abattoirs in Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba and Yukon are required by law to be tested for CWD. Only carcasses that test negative are used for meat in those jurisdictions.

A federally reportable disease in Canada, CWD is known to only naturally affect members of the cervid family, with no direct evidence yet to suggest it could be transmitted to people or other species.

It’s still recommended, though, that people not use or consume any tissues that may have come from a known CWD-infected animal. — AGCanada.com Network

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