The Iowa Department of Natural Resources recommends that all hunters test their deer for chronic wasting disease before eating the animals’ meat
Even while the Iowa Department of Natural Resources strongly suggests that all hunters test their deer for chronic wasting disease before eating the meat of the animals, the state does not yet mandate that any testing be done on venison that is given to food pantries as a donation.
The disease, which is lethal to deer, is brought on by an aberrant protein that, over the course of years, causes nerve cells to be destroyed. The proteins that cause chronic wasting disease can be found anywhere in the body of the animal, including in the antlers that are growing. That being the case, people who consume diseased deer are opening themselves up to the possibility of ingesting the renegade proteins. These proteins are resistant to heat and can survive for an extremely long time in the natural world.
Despite the fact that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that humans can catch the disease through eating contaminated deer meat, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States advises against doing so.
Tyler Harms, a DNR wildlife research biometrician who analyzes the spread of the protein in Iowa, said that “ultimately, the absence of evidence for risk to people today does not preclude the possible risk that may emerge in the future.”
However, the same safety requirement has not been applied to the deer that have been donated by hunters for the Help Us Stop Hunger program (also known as HUSH) that is run by the state.
An incorrectly folded protein
In the 1960s, a research institution in Colorado was the location that made the initial discovery of chronic wasting disease in captive deer. By 1981, it had already spread to wild deer, and since then, it has been found in over two dozen states across the country.
It is believed that the condition is caused by proteins that have folded improperly and are responsible for encouraging other proteins in the brain to also fold improperly, which results in the death of nerve cells.
It was found for the first time in 2013 in the northeastern part of Iowa and affects moose, elk, and deer. The disease has only been found in counties that bordered other states that were already known to have infections up until this past year, when it was discovered in Greene County, which is located in the middle of the state.
The Department of Natural Resources now takes samples from approximately 6,000 deer each year. These deer are either killed by hunters or by cars, or they are deer that exhibit indicators of having the disease. Deer who are infected with the disease and have progressed to a later stage may lose weight, have an increase in the amount they drink, urinate, and salivate, and lose their natural fear of humans.
According to Harms, it may take up to two years for deer to show the symptoms of sickness after being infected.
According to him, “a deer that is sick and is in the pre-clinical stage can still be infectious and seem completely healthy and therefore not be expressing any of these clinical indications.” This is because the disease has not yet reached the clinical stage. It is for this reason that the management of this disease on the landscape and the detection of it are of such critical importance. The majority of the deer that have tested positive for chronic wasting illness in Iowa to this far have had normal-appearing antlers and fur, which makes it extremely difficult to identify the condition in the wild.
According to these tests, there are already 165 infected deer spread throughout 12 counties in the state of Iowa. The counties located in very far northeast Iowa and Wayne County, which is located in very far southern Iowa, are the places with the highest concentrations of the disease.
According to Harms, research conducted in Wisconsin, a state where more than 10,000 deer have been found to be sick with the disease, has showed that older animals living in heavily contaminated counties had approximately a 50% probability of harboring the disease.
This is due, in part, to the fact that it was discovered years ago that the proteins present in the environment were contagious. Prions are aberrant proteins that can be found in the feces, saliva, and urine of deer. Prions are also known as scrapie. Because male deer have more interactions with other herd members, they are at a greater risk of contracting the disease. Infected moms can also pass the disease on to their young.
The testing is essential.
The collection of samples from the lymph nodes of deer in Iowa is an essential component in monitoring the progression and incidence of chronic wasting illness in the state.
Additionally, this is a practice that has been used in other Midwestern states to verify that the venison that is donated to food banks is fit for human consumption.
Before they may be utilized for the Share the Harvest program in Missouri, deer that are killed by hunters in nearly 40 of the state’s counties are required to be tested for the disease first. This program is quite similar to the HUSH program in Iowa. Processors are required to set aside any deer that have undergone testing in the state of Minnesota until the results indicate whether or not the deer were infected. When it is processed into ground venison for distribution to food pantries, the meat from one deer is frequently mixed in with the meat from other deer.
In the near future, there are no plans to establish testing that is comparable in Iowa.
Stephanie Lawrence, who is in charge of supervising the HUSH program, claimed that there is “nothing set in stone” about whether or not it is something that is required.
In order to process the donated deer, this organization makes use of a distributed system of local meat lockers.
According to what Lawrence had to say, “It’s just an extra step that they would have to go through.” It is something that we would have to discuss with lockers in order to establish whether or not it is something that could be done.
An partnership between the DNR and the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Iowa State University makes the testing available at a cost of approximately $25 per deer. It may take several weeks to acquire results, which may cause certain lockers to accumulate an unmanageable backlog of carcasses if the process is allowed to continue. The two shotgun seasons in Iowa account for the vast majority of the deer that are taken by hunters in the state. This year, they are held from December 3rd to the 7th, as well as the 10th to the 18th.
According to the Centers for Illness Control and Prevention (CDC), chronic wasting disease has not been demonstrated to impact people; nevertheless, research suggest that it can infect monkeys. It is possible that it will take years for researchers to ascertain whether or not there is a risk to human beings.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated a year ago that “notwithstanding, these experimental investigations highlight the worry that (chronic wasting disease) may pose a risk to people and advise that it is crucial to limit human exposures.”
According to Todd Bishop, chief of the wildlife bureau for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the state is likely to start testing donated deer in the counties where the disease is most common if it starts to demand the sampling.
According to what he had to say, “it’s tough to quantify the risk right now because it’s not a known public health issue.” However, we are paying attention.
According to the Department of Natural Resources, the state of Iowa has thirty HUSH lockers that have been approved by the state. They receive compensation based on the number of deer they process. According to Rachel Ruden, the wildlife veterinarian for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), one of the considerations for imposing new restrictions for donated venison is keeping or increasing the participation in the program. She stated that some lockers have been hesitant to take deer to have them tested for chronic wasting illness owing to concerns over responsibility.
But Ruden emphasized that the testing is a necessary step to ensure the safety of the food that was donated. The previous year saw close to 3,200 deer being offered as donations to the HUSH program.
“This is something that I personally feel quite passionate about, and it would not be out of line with what other states have done,” said Ruden. “It would not be out of line with what other states have done.”
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