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Obey blasts feds' efforts to help state fight CWD

September 25, 2002 Capital Times (Madison, WI) by Eli Fanning
Rep. David Obey on Tuesday sharply criticized the White House for not releasing federal funds and the U.S. Department of Agriculture for not loosening restrictions to help Wisconsin fight chronic wasting disease.

"The situation is getting worse than it needs to be and the feds are doing precious little," Obey, D-Wausau, said of federal efforts to help Wisconsin fight the disease, which afflicts deer.

Obey's demands that President Bush release federal funds to fight the disease came about two weeks after Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, denounced the president's plan to stop about $18 million headed for Wisconsin. Baldwin was "baffled" by the Bush administration's unwillingness to fund efforts to learn about and combat the fatal brain disease, her spokesman said. Bush said last month he decided not to release the money, which was part of $5.1 billion in supplemental spending approved by Congress, on the ground of fiscal restraint.

Baldwin also wrote a letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton asking her and the Bush administration to "meet the financial and public health challenges posed by CWD." She also criticized Norton for not visiting the only federal chronic wasting disease testing facility during Norton's recent trip to the state.

But Obey sounded an even more direct call Tuesday, asking Bush to give some of the millions of dollars of campaign funds he raised in Wisconsin back to the state. He also demanded that the USDA "get off its duff" and allow more private labs to use new and faster methods of testing for the disease.

"I'm no scientist, I don't know how reliable the tests are, but we ought to be doing everything we can," Obey said of allowing private labs as to perform testing. "If (private labs) are good enough for human tests, it seems it would be good enough for Wisconsin's deer population."

Without a quick testing procedure in place, Wisconsin's $1-billion-a-year hunting industry could be hurt by the disease. Hunters fear that human health problems may result from eating venison from infected deer.

Recently, the president of a private lab near Milwaukee said hunters could find out from his lab in a week whether their deer have the disease through the use of a new "rapid" test.

But Assistant State Veterinarian Bob Ehlenfeldt has warned hunters to be wary of private tests not accredited by the USDA. The standard USDA test takes about one week, but could take longer during hunting season due to the high volume, according to Kimberley Smith, spokeswoman for the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Baldwin and Obey have been lobbying the USDA to allow private labs to help expedite the testing process. Obey called the USDA restrictions "ridiculous."

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