Mad Deer Disease May Spread to Humans

The Mad Deer Nightmare Is Just Beginning
by John Stauber

Five years ago when Sheldon Rampton and I were finishing our book Mad Cow
USA we learned that CWD, a mad cow-type disease found in US deer and elk,
was infecting growing numbers of animals in the West both in the wild and on
deer and elk farms. Since little effective action was taken, I was not
surprised to hear that CWD has spread to wild deer in Wisconsin, probably
through the import of infected deer and elk. The Wisconsin Department of
Agriculture knew way back in 1998 that animals from infected Western herds
were being imported into Wisconsin, but did nothing except set up an
advisory committee stacked with the owners of deer and elk farms.

'Mad deer disease' spreads inexorably but invisibly and we might not know
for years or decades whether it is spreading into cows or people as has
happened in Britain with British mad cow disease. While this possibility
is being downplayed to encourage deer hunting and to prevent public concern,
there is evidence that CWD could spread into humans, including a published
peer reviewed scientific study and the unusual deaths of young hunters in
Oklahoma and Utah from sporadic CJD, a similar disease.

After a decade of denial, the British government was forced to admit in 1996
that young people are dying of an incurable dementia that is indeed mad cow
disease in humans. Today the death toll is over 100 and rising, doubling
every three years. Because these types of diseases have an invisible
latency period that can last decades in humans, the British death toll is
predicted to rise as high as 100,000 in the decades ahead as people die from
contaminated beef they ate in the 1980s.

CWD is predicted to keep spreading and decimate the Wisconsin deer herd
within a few decades. It is a very invisible disease, and deer or elk can
be infected at an extremely young age, even as fawns, yet show no outward
signs of infection. There is currently no easy and dependable live test
that can detect the disease; killing an animal and then examining its brain
is the only sure way of discovering if an animal is infected. Cooking does
not destroy CWD. The World Health Organization says that no part of any
infected animal should be consumed by people or other animals, so having a
deer tested before consumption and avoiding sausage made from untested deer
is advised.

The best evidence indicates that CWD is being spread across North America,
effectively seeded into new states and provinces, by trafficking in farmed
deer and elk that appear healthy but are infectious. From deer and elk farms
the disease escapes into wild populations. Wisconsin needs to institute an
immediate mandatory halt to all trafficking in farmed deer and elk in or out
of our state until a reliable and simple live animal test is developed.

All existing deer and elk farm animals in Wisconsin should be quarantined
behind secure fences. They should be used for CWD research and study, and
unless each individual animal is tested and certified free of CWD, should
not be used for human or animal consumption, nor rendered. (Incredible as
it sounds, under weak US regulations even deer known to be infected with CWD
can still be rendered and their rendered by-products used as feed for pets,
chickens, pigs and other non-ruminant animals.)

We need to treat CWD as the dire and unique animal health emergency it is.
If foot and mouth disease had broken out in Wisconsin, state and federal
agencies would be taking extreme emergency actions to quarantine herds and
halt its spread. CWD is in many ways a worse scenario because researchers
at least know how to control foot and mouth disease, limit its spread, and
stamp it out. No such methods of cure or eradication are known, or even
imagined, for CWD.

Dealing effectively with the national impact of CWD and other similar
diseases in US livestock will cost billions of dollars in the decades ahead,
yet no one at the federal level is taking charge. Perhaps the unfolding CWD
crisis in Wisconsin will stimulate federal action, but we can't wait for
that to happen. Unfortunately, the recent new law and other steps taken by
the state are severely inadequate. Unless rapid and strong measures are
adopted and enforced, beginning with a trafficking moratorium and quarantine
on deer and elk farms, a terrible situation will only get worse.

(John Stauber lives in Madison and is co-author of the book Mad Cow USA:
Could the Nightmare Happen Here? The book is available free on the web as
a PDF download at

A hard copy is also available for $10.00 (including shipping) on the OCA

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