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Deer disease handling hit

May 14, 2002 Capital Times (Madison, WI) by Anita Weier
The state Department of Agriculture should test all deer and elk who die or become ill on the state's 947 game farms for chronic wasting disease, activists said.

Led by Supervisor Brett Hulsey and buttressed by written statements from former Department of Natural Resources Secretary George Meyer, several people held a State Capitol press conference Monday to attack the agriculture department's past and current actions and motives.

"The Department of Agriculture knew of these elk coming in (from infected herds in other states) in 1998 and refused to take effective action," Hulsey said. "We need to random sample all of the farms. The main thing the Legislature needs to address is that we have to have mandatory testing on these hundreds of deer farms, or they will just get re-infected."

The Legislature should require tougher measures during its special session on chronic wasting disease this week, he said.

In April, the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection established emergency rules aimed at protecting Wisconsin from further spreading of the fatal nervous system disease that was discovered in white-tailed deer in February. The rules in effect bar deer and elk from being imported into Wisconsin and require testing of carcasses that are about to moved off a farm.

State Veterinarian Clarence Siroky, contacted following the press conference, said the activists are asking the impossible.

First of all, it's not possible to know when every animal dies on a large game farm, he said.

"How come you haven't found any dead birds in your back yard? Predators take them or they go away and hide before they die," Siroky said.

Siroky also defends not stopping imports or deer and elk in 1998, when concerns about chronic wasting disease were raised and other states notified Wisconsin that animals had come into this state from herds that had the disease.

"We knew all of the animals on the basis of health certificates," he said. "The imports coming in were from known farms. If we attempted to stop imports, they will bring them in from places you don't know. It would drive movement underground and you would never be able to figure out where the disease came from."

He also noted that 19 imported elk that were later found to have come from herds where chronic wasting disease had occurred tested negative.

The disease is in wild deer, Siroky said. "It has not been associated with any game farm," he said.

The activists also accused the state Department of Agriculture of packing a deer disease advisory committee with game farm owners. A list of committee members shows that nine were game farm owners and two were state officials.

Hulsey said then-Gov. Tommy Thompson benefited from campaign contributions from some of those game farm owners.

"It is clear that the Department of Agriculture should have done more to test and regulate game farms and prohibit the import of elk and deer from areas with chronic wasting disease," Meyer said. "We should have a mandatory CWD testing on all game farms in the state now."

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