Edmonton — The Alberta government has instituted mandatory testing for chronic wasting disease in elk and deer on farms.

Dr. Gerald Ollis, a veterinarian with Alberta Agriculture, said about 80 per cent of producers have participated in a voluntary testing program since 1996.

“But the 20 per cent that wasn’t participating is the group that was of some concern,” he said.

Dr. Ollis said it was just a coincidence the province officially announced the program Thursday, the same day federal and provincial health officials in Saskatchewan confirmed the first Canadian death from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.

Chronic wasting disease is a brain-destroying illness in deer and elk.

It is related to mad-cow disease in cattle, scrapie in sheep and goats, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans. This group of diseases is caused by mutant proteins called prions which leave sponge-like holes in the brain.

Government officials say there is no scientific evidence to suggest that chronic wasting disease can affect humans.

The deaths of three outdoorsmen in Wisconsin from brain-wasting disease are being investigated by medical experts. The men knew one another and ate elk and deer meat during the 1980s and ’90s. All three died in the 1990s.

New York state prohibited feeding wild deer Wednesday, while extending a ban on importing deer and elk, both precautions against the introduction of chronic wasting disease.

There has only been one positive test in Alberta for a farmed elk with the illness.