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Wasting disease found in a wild deer in Saskatchewan

April 5, 2001 CTV Television by Lloyd Robertson

LLOYD ROBERTSON: A disturbing report tonight from the
Canadian Prairies about an insidious danger to wildlife. For the
first time, a disease similar to Mad Cow has been confirmed in wild
deer. It's feared the fatal condition, Chronic Wasting Disease it
is called, may have spread from elk farms. A wild deer with the
virus was found near one such farm in the area of Lloydminster,
Saskatchewan. And CTV News has learned scientists warned the
government years before, about the possibility of an outbreak.
CTV's Jonathan Gravenor reports.

JONATHAN GRAVENOR [Reporter]: For the last five years, Chronic
Wasting Disease has been contained to Saskatchewan's elk farms, but
now it's beyond the fences, and into the wildlife.

BUCKLEY BELANGER [Saskatchewan Environment Minister]: We don't
know the source, and there is now way to know where it come from.

GRAVENOR: The virus is closely linked to Mad Cow Disease, which
decimated Britain's cattle industry just a few years ago. At this
point, there's no evidence it can lead to human illness. Experts
believe it's transmitted from animal to animal. With no cure, no
tests to detect it, fatal to animals that contract it, the only way
to eradicate the disease is massive slaughter.

GEORGE LUTHERBACH [Vet. Canadian Food Inspection Agency]: I think
all of us, all of the stakeholders, including government, the farm
game industry, hunters are, all Canadians probably are concerned
here.

GRAVENOR: Officials tried to put on a good face on it, saying
they have it under control, but the disease has already had a
devastating impact on Saskatchewan's elk industry. The animals are
raised for food, and the valuable velvet on their antlers, but
since 1996, nineteen farms have had to slaughter three thousand
animals suspected of carrying the disease.

CAROL SKELTON [Alliance MP]: It's a mess.

GRAVENOR: Carol Skelton is an Alliance MP, and a Saskatchewan elk
farmer. She says the spread of the disease into the wild could now
threaten the hunting industry, which generates hundreds of millions
of dollars. But CTV News has learned that the federal government
may have been able to stop the outbreak years ago. When it first
appeared in Saskatchewan, scientists for the Food Inspection Agency
concluded is started at this elk farm in Lloydminster,
Saskatchewan. The experts twice recommended a mass cull. Both
times, Ottawa refused.

SKELTON: If they would have told us, you need to eradicate these
herds, we would have done it. If they didn't tell us, you know,
it's their fault.

GRAVENOR: The disease has always been contained to Saskatchewan,
but now that's it's been found in a wild animal, many scientists
are worried that there's no telling how far it can spread across
the country. What's also disturbing is why did the government not
follow the advice of it's own experts when they had a chance
possibly to wipe out the disease several years ago. Lloyd?

ROBERTSON: Jonathan, what do we know about this disease
transferring itself to farm animals like cows or pigs?

GRAVENOR: Right now, scientists are saying no, but they're
[inaudible] on elk farms right across the province where they
suspect chronic wasting disease might be, also killing off cattle
and bison which are on the same farms. Number one, they say, is so
they can test the dead animals to see if Chronic Wasting Disease
has crossed species, and two, just to make sure the disease doesn't
spread. Lloyd.

ROBERTSON: Thank you Jonathan. CTV's Jonathan Gravenor. Next in
the news, some good news from the markets, and fighting back
against organized crime. Ottawa's controversial plan to out-muscle
the gangsters. And later, the man who never forgets a face, really.
It's all still to come on CTV News.


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