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Ed chows down on venison; 'eat and enjoy!' Thompson urges

September 6, 2002 Capital Times (Madison, WI) by Lee Sensenbrenner
Just like taking a bare-knuckle punch to the jaw or a butcher-knife stab to the gut -- both of which he has done -- Ed Thompson's approach to dealing with potentially diseased deer meat is simply to toughen up and eat the stuff.

And he's calling on hunters to do the same.

"Just don't even give in to it. Don't even think about it. Go and get your meat processed and enjoy it," Thompson said Thursday at a rural meat processing shop that stands in the center of the chronic wasting disease eradication zone. "In everything, in every part of your life, the only enemy you got is fear," Thompson said. "I've never seen fear to be right yet, in anything. It's always wrong and it's always a lie. You need to step up to it and say, come on, what do you got?"

Thompson, who is running for governor on the Libertarian ticket, had just eaten two bratwursts and some sliced sausage, all ground from deer taken from an area where 31 deer have been found to be infected with chronic wasting disease.

"All the meat is pooled, so it's the luck of the draw," Thompson said before he took another bite from the venison sausage topped with sauerkraut Thursday afternoon. "Lord, is that good!"

Thompson and visiting butcher Ken Elmer offered up venison to the crowd of reporters, campaign volunteers and neighbors pressed into the slightly gamy front shop of Dick Dickman's meat locker. There weren't many takers.

The reporters, who had driven past a "llamas for sale" lot and parked across the road from what locals swear is a rat farm, asked Thompson whether he was repeating history.

Ed, they said, is there any similarity between what you're doing and what the beef-eating politicians did in Britain at the outset of mad cow disease?

"I don't see any similarity at all," Thompson said. "CWD has been in the United States for over 40 years.

"If there's no documented proof that there's ever been a case -- ever-- where there was someone who got sick eating venison, why would you throw out this deer?"

Thompson, who once competed in tough-man ring matches and patched himself with duct tape after his neighborhood butcher and friend poked a hole in his stomach with a knife, stopped short of calling Gov. Scott McCallum a wimp. But he made jokes at his expense and challenged him to come out and eat a venison brat.

He said the current administration has been weak in allaying the fears that stand to cripple the business of small-town butchers who make much of their money processing deer meat.

"I think they should have said, Hunters, do not be worried about your meat. Go out and eat and enjoy the venison.' There's no documented proof that it's not nature's way of culling the herd," Thompson said.

"There's no health hazard whatsoever!" added Elmer, a Marine for 21 years who now runs Swiss Family meats in Evansville. Elmer, who is a member of the National Republican Committee, said he is irate about McCallum, whom he called an "absentee landlord."

"I guarantee it, if I have to go out and start Republicans for Thompson, I will do it, because I would rather see a socialist in the governor's office than Whatchamccallum," Elmer said.

Ron Hurt, a volunteer for Thompson, said of the demonstration: "With a single bite, he's done more for the Wisconsin economy than Spanky McCallum has done in his whole time in office."

Though Thompson and his supporters stressed the harmlessness of eating venison, their advice technically goes against that of the World Health Organization. Though no evidence proves that CWD can make the jump to humans, the agency recommends against eating venison until it has been tested.

Roughly along those lines, Thompson offered his own caution against eating venison: "If you see a deer stumbling out of the woods emaciated, don't eat that one. But you know, there'll be very few of those."

Thompson's advice was appalling to John Stauber, the author of "Mad Cow U.S.A."

"The man is a complete ignoramus when it comes to chronic wasting disease," said Stauber, who witnessed the demonstration.

"Evidently, Ed Thompson doesn't believe in the old admonishment better safe than sorry.' It's just a publicity stunt, but it's really a dangerous publicity stunt."

Thompson, who admits losing 60 pounds since he began campaigning about a year ago, said he's not concerned about catching chronic wasting disease or its human counterpart, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

And if he does, he said, he'll know who to blame: his brother, Tommy Thompson, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. And he knows what he'll say.

"Tommy, why didn't you tell me?" Ed said with a roar of laughter. "Thanks a lot, Tommy!"

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