Editors Blog

Whitetail Wisdom: CWD, Monkeys & Eating Venison

Are fears over CWD affecting that way you view venison? (photo by Daniel Schmidt)

Whitetail Wisdom: Of CWD, Monkeys and Eating Venison. Will Canadian Study Affect How Hunters View Whitetail Hunting and Eating Deer Meat? Blog Post by Daniel Schmidt

Recent reports on chronic wasting disease are pointing to new research findings from Canada that show the disease can jump from deer to Macaque monkeys (primates quasi-related to humans). The study, conducted over five years, saw researchers feed the monkeys CWD-tainted venison and also inject CWD prions directly into the brains of other test monkeys.

The news is concerning, because many folks are extrapolating the findings to a possible, potential, somewhere-down-the-road hypothesis that we’re all screwed. We could be, but I’m still not putting my money on it, nor pressing the panic button.

First, some facts:

— Once a deer contracts CWD it WILL die from it. We’ve heard that at least a million times since the mass panic when Wisconsin found CWD in its herd in 2002. Fifteen freaking years later, and that’s still the most copy-and-pasted term in any of these “news” stories. It’s true, but this fact has been used beyond the point of sensationalism. CWD kills deer, but researchers still don’t know its true toll on regional populations. Some computer models suggest the disease will wipe out regional deer herds within 50 years. Others suggest that some deer herds will develop a resistance to the disease.

— According to one source, there has been a national increase in cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. This is the human form of Mad Cow disease (CWD is the deer version of Mad Cow). In 2002, there were 260 cases of CJD in the U.S., compared with 481 in 2015, an 85 percent increase, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s a scare-the-crap-out-of-you percentage, no doubt, but there’s no data on how many of those folks ate venison. It should also be noted that the increase in CJD could also be linked to the fact that previous annual totals were taken only from death certificates that listed the disease as the cause of death.

— CJD, which was first identified in 1920, is a naturally occurring disease in humans that affects about 1 in 1 million people. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), CJD can be contracted in one of three ways:

  1. Sporadic CJD. The disease appears even though the person has no known risk factors for the disease. This is by far the most common type of CJD and accounts for at least 85 percent of cases.
  2. Hereditary CJD. The person has a family history of the disease and/or tests positive for a genetic mutation associated with CJD. About 5 to 10 percent of cases of CJD in the United States are hereditary.
  3. Acquired CJD. The disease is transmitted by exposure to brain or nervous system tissue, usually through certain medical procedures. There is no evidence that CJD is contagious through casual contact with a CJD patient. Since CJD was first described in 1920, fewer than 1 percent of cases have been acquired CJD.

So, roughly 400 people in the U.S. die each year from CJD that they didn’t inherit. What we don’t know is how many of those people were deer hunters or how many ate venison on a regular basis.

More facts:

— The United States is home to about 11 million white-tailed deer hunters.

— These hunters take home about 6 million deer each year.

— These hunters consume (conservatively) 300 million pounds of venison each year.

Final Thoughts

Some of the statistics are at least interesting, but what should you really do with all of this information? Well, there’s several ways of looking at it:

  1. You could call for the immediate and total end to all practices that put deer within close proximity of each other. This means all-out bans on baiting, feeding, food plots, artificial water sources (tanks, ponds, etc), You should also be lobbying your state officials for immediate action to reduce deer herd densities to single digits (no more than 9 deer per square mile of habitat) in infected areas. You should also be calling for massive controlled burns of habitat in all areas that test positive for CWD in the wild (research indicates that diseased prions can pass from deer and “live” on native browse, possibly leading to increased infection rates).
  2. You can conveniently pick and choose a few of the above options that you find most palatable (say baiting bans, because you’re morally superior to everyone else), and lobby for those. You can also dip one foot in the water and call for “consideration” of increased herd-reduction efforts (as long as it’s not where you hunt). Either way, at the end of the day, you can calmly sip your coffee, tea or beer and say, “Hey, at least I did SOMETHING.”
  3. You can play the skeptic and risk being labeled an apathetic loser by those who are trading in their guns and bows for fishing rods and golf clubs because, in their minds, the end is near.

There’s a fourth option: You can wait another 15 years and read all about these concerns once again. That’s because there is no end in sight.


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