Saskatchewan elk farm blamed for outbreak of chronic wasting disease

April 8, 2001 The Ottawa Citizen by Don Thomas

Federal officials have ordered the slaughter of cattle and bison as a precaution on a Saskatchewan elk farm blamed for an outbreak of chronic wasting disease.

The brain disease, similar to mad-cow disease, has already resulted in the slaughter of more than 3,000 elk on 11 Saskatchewan game farms.

There is also evidence the outbreak has spread to the wild deer population. Last week, a wild mule deer shot 100 kilometres south of a farm with infected elk tested positive for the disease.

All the cases have been traced to a farm about 30 kilometres east of the Alberta border near Lloydminster. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency last fall had 450 elk slaughtered at the farm. The land was not supposed to be restocked, but the agency learned last week that it was and ordered 256 cattle and 99 bison destroyed.

Chronic wasting disease is a fatal brain disease of elk, mule deer and white-tailed deer. It is part of a family of diseases that include mad-cow disease in cattle and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans. Animals suffering from the disease exhibit symptoms which may include a lack of co-ordination, paralysis and weight loss.

Gary Sargent of the Alberta Cattle Commission, said while he's not alarmed by the slaughter, it would be premature to call for restrictions on game farms. "But I appreciate the precautionary approach on this."

Saskatchewan environment officials have announced a plan to triple the number of deer and elk that hunters can take in the area where the infected deer was found. It is hoped that will stop the disease from getting a foothold in the wild.

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