April 23, 2002 Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO)The Food and Drug Administration's top official called Monday for eliminating chronic wasting disease among deer and elk before it has a chance to infect the nation's beef supply.
"We probably should try to eradicate it. There's no reason you couldn't stop it," said Deputy FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford. "It's not something you want in the livestock herds." FDA is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to determine how extensively CWD has spread, and is considering new regulations, Crawford said.
There is no proof cattle can contract the fatal disease, but scientists and others say more research is vital.
"There's every reason to be concerned that we control it and confine it now that we have the opportunity," said Crawford, a veterinarian who is running the FDA until a new commissioner is appointed.
Crawford's comments come on the heels of a request by U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard of Colorado for federal assistance in fighting the disease. Last week, in letters to the directors of the departments of Agriculture and Interior, Allard suggested more federal staffing and money be directed toward CWD.
"Senator Allard applauds the FDA director for coming out and making this statement," said Allard spokesman Sean Conway.
Colorado wildlife officials couldn't be reached for a reaction to Crawford's call to "eliminate" CWD. But they have suggested in the past that ridding the wild of CWD altogether would be difficult. Instead, biologists are trying to limit its spread by shooting deer located in "hot spots," where the disease exists in greater concentrations.
Chronic wasting disease, like mad cow disease, is one of a family of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. Unlike with mad cow, scientists don't have evidence that CWD can infect humans, though research into the question is ongoing.
Crawford's comments also follow last week's disclosure of the first U.S. case of mad cow disease. Mad cow, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is linked to a human illness called new variant Creutzfeld-Jakob disease.
The first U.S. victim, who lives in Florida, is believed to have contracted it in Great Britain.
Also Monday, a Minnesota official said the federal government needs to work with state governments to restrict the shipping of domestic deer and elk. William Hueston, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Animal Health and Food Safety, complained of "a patchwork of regulations across the nation."