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Planet Ark World Environment News Wisconsin governor wants USDA to expand deer tests

Date: 02-Sep-02
Country: USA

"It is way past time for USDA to get off the dime and approve a rapid test for CWD," McCallum said in a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman. USDA is currently reviewing at least three such tests, McCallum said.

The governor faulted USDA for its strategy of allowing only federal and state laboratories to test for CWD, which was first detected in Wisconsin deer last February and has so far been found in 24 deer in the state.

"I do not believe USDA realizes, or recognizes, that its current policy limiting testing to only state and federal laboratories does not meet our hunters' demands for more testing," McCallum said in the letter.

McCallum said Wisconsin's plan to contain the disease involves testing more than 60,000 deer over the next 12 months, while hunters are expected to kill tens of thousands more.

"Simply put, the total lab capacity in the country cannot match the testing needs we have in Wisconsin alone," McCallum said.

CWD is in the same family of illnesses as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease. In Europe, at least 125 people have contracted a related, fatal human illness linked to eating beef from infected cows.

CWD has never been shown to infect humans or cattle, but the World Health Organization has advised against eating venison or any part of an animal showing symptoms.

The illness has been present in U.S. deer and elk for decades, but until last year most of the cases were found in the Rocky Mountain and Plains states. CWD is seen as as a particular threat in Wisconsin, where the deer herd is estimated at 1.6 million head and hunting is a $1.5 billion industry.

McCallum said private-sector laboratories should be authorized to perform tests for hunters this fall. Wisconsin officials are concerned that fears about venison safety could prompt up to one-third of the roughly 700,000 hunters who turn out each year to stay home.

"This possibility may not mean much in Washington, D.C., but here in Wisconsin the consequences of such a drastic decline are potentially devastating to our efforts to get CWD under control," McCallum said.

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