Should Hunters Fear Fatal Deer Disease?

By Martha Rosenberg
Martha Rosenberg
Martha Rosenberg
Martha Rosenberg is a nationally recognized reporter and author whose work has been cited by the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Public Library of Science Biology, and National Geographic. Rosenberg’s FDA expose, "Born with a Junk Food Deficiency," established her as a prominent investigative journalist. She has lectured widely at universities throughout the United States and resides in Chicago.
June 17, 2015 Updated: June 17, 2015

 The fatal deer condition chronic wasting disease (CWD) is less well known than mad cow disease but related. Both are progressive, fatal transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (brain diseases) which may have man-made origins. Mad cow disease is believed to stem from beef producers feeding cows to cows to save money and chronic wasting disease is traced back to Department of Wildlife experiments in the mid-1960s on wild deer and elk at the Foothills Wildlife Research Facility in Fort Collins, Colorado after which the first cases of deer and elk with CWD were noted.

 Over ten years ago, Wisconsin endured a kind of deer holocaust in which so many deer came down with CWD, thousands of carcasses were stored in refrigerated trucks in La Crosse while their severed heads were tested for CWD. Food pantries refused the deer which some suspected the hunters didn’t trust to eat themselves—nice!–and they later attached a flier the gist of which was: there is slight chance this meat could kill you. Bon Appetit.



 Hunters and their families were afraid to eat the deer they killed because even if theirs was okay what about the other guy’s at the processor’s? One hunter not only worried about the blood on his steering wheel after killing a buck, he worried about his wife washing his blood stained clothes. Departments of Natural Resources warned hunters to avoid exposure to spinal material when cleaning their deer.

 Citing hunter denial about CWD and the over $1 billion in revenue the deer hunting industry makes a year, Brian Lovett, author the Realtree Outdoor News advises hunters to not “panic, but be afraid,” “demand answers from scientists and lawmakers,” and don’t “be lulled into a sense of security by naysayers or politicians.”

 That is because even though scientists say there is no evidence CWD could jump the species barrier and infect humans, says Lovett, there is also no evidence that it can’t.

 Actually many consider a 2002 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the CDC called “Fatal Degenerative Neurologic Illnesses in Men Who Participated in Wild Game Feasts —Wisconsin, 2002,” evidence that the disease can jump species. “Three unusually young patients with CJD who regularly consumed deer or elk meat” read an article about the cases in the Archives of Neurology. CJD is short for Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease the human version of CWD and mad cow.

 Several journal articles suggest that the agent that causes CWD—called a prion—is perfused throughout an infected deer in muscle, blood, saliva, kidneys, pancreases, livers and even in fat.

 Articles in the journal Science warned that, “humans consuming or handling meat from CWD-infected deer are at risk to prion exposure” and that even casual contact with infected animals could put people at risk. “All parts of the carcass contain the CWD agent,” warned a Colorado State University professor.

 This week, the Ohio Department of Agriculture euthanized more than 500 deer to stop the spread of CWD. The deer, reported the Coshocton Tribune were owned by Daniel Yoder who operates a hunting preserve and deer breeding operation. Because CWD is easily spread at breeding facilities through saliva and ground contamination, several states have arrested operators like Yoder to protect their own deer industry, including so-called “trophy” farms.

 A few years ago, a deer with CWD was found at Heartland Wildlife Ranches in Ethel, Missouri an 800-acre lodge surrounded by 8-foot fences where hunters “come from across the country to take aim at trophy animals such as whitetail deer, elk and zebra,” says the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Think Dick Cheney. A three-day hunt for water buffalo costs $4,000. Nice.

 Last year, a four-part expose in the Indiana Star explores how “the pursuit of deer bred for enormous antlers and shot in hunting pens” on trophy farms is spreading CWD at an alarming rate. Deer breeding and “trophy farms” are a huge industry and spread CWD from their concentration of animals, “communicability window” (trophy animal trading; escaped animals) and “unknown feed” sources say officials. Cleary, CWD is not just man-made it is man-spread.

 Many say such canned, “sure shot” hunting operations in which animals do not have a chance to escape are inhumane and should be shut down. They say the “hunters” are unbalanced, bloodthirsty and sadistic. Now, such operations are also affecting wild deer and the people who eat them. Are you listening, state lawmakers?