Elk farmers in Saskatchewan

December 29, 2001 CBC TV (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)


BODY: BEN CHIN: In Saskatchewan, elk farmers are breeding a sigh of relief. An illness, one related to mad cow disease had wiped out around a quarter of their herds. Now the government says that outbreak is over. And it's trying to make sure it doesn't happen again. More from the CBC's Jo Lynn Sheane.

JO LYNN SHEANE (Reporter): For these elk, it's not much of a struggle against the Prairie winter. They're farm animals and their owners feed them but for the farmers, owning them has become an ordeal. Seventy-five hundred elk on 38 Saskatchewan farms have been slaughtered in less than two years, their brains analyzed. All this in an aggressive effort to stop an outbreak of chronic wasting disease or mad elk disease. So called because it's similar to mad cow disease.

GEORGE LUTERBACH (Canadian Food Inspection Agency): This is a map that shows some more than...

SHEANE: The federal government spent $30 million to rid Canada of chronic wasting disease, killing all suspect herds and tracing the outbreak to just one farm that imported an infected elk from the United States. Now Ottawa is almost ready to declare the crisis over.

LUTERBACH: To this point in time, we have completed all the trace-outs from all the known infected farms. We've eliminate all the infected animals and from this outbreak perspective, we believe that we are nearly complete.

WARREN ZOKOWSKI: I believe the CWD thing is pretty much linked to...

SHEANE: Farmers like Warren Zokowski are hoping the federal government is right. His entire herd of 577 animals had to be killed. He lost thousands of dollars. A federal compensation program covered only some of it. But getting back into the business hasn't been easy. Some export markets have banned Canadian elk. Now Saskatchewan hopes the win backfires for its farm elk. Starting in January, all elk farmers in the province will have to participate in the monitoring program. Any time an animal dies, its brain will be examined.

ZOKOWSKI: You need to have everybody cooperating so we can get this cleaned up so we don't have, you know, a disease stain on the industry of Saskatchewan.

SHEANE: Federal officials say the monitoring program will continue until they're sure mad elk disease has been eradicated from Canada and it won't come back. Jo Lynn Sheane, CBC News, Regina.

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