FRANKFORT, Ky.- Kentucky has banned the importation of deer and other members of its animal family in an attempt to stave off the spread of a disease that has threatened the valuable industry.

The order signed Tuesday by Gov. Paul Patton bans the import and export of all deer, elk, caribou, reindeer and other members of the animal family Cervidae.

According to Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Tom Bennett, there are about 60 commercial breeding establishments in Kentucky for deer and elk.

The danger is from chronic wasting disease, which is related to mad cow disease and damages brain and nerve tissue before killing the animal. Bennett said there is no known vaccine for the disease and it can only be tested from brain tissue, which requires killing the suspect animal.

Bennett said scientists do not believe the disease can be transmitted from animals to humans, either through contact or eating meat from infected animals.

No cases have been found in Kentucky, but several other states and some Canadian provinces have reported chronic wasting disease, including the first report from Illinois earlier this month. Bennett said 20 states have banned the importation of commercial cervids.

Nonetheless, Bennett said the state plans to test at least 1,000 deer killed during hunting season.

Kentucky has about 271,000 deer hunters and it is a significant economic factor. Estimates are that deer hunters spend $350 million on hunting and related activities.

“Kentucky’s wild deer and elk populations are a valuable natural resource and must be protected from the impacts of this disease,” Patton said.

Bennett said preliminary studies indicate that the disease travels through commercial breeding operations, then to wild deer herds.

Bennett said the elk imported by the state to return the animal to Kentucky were all brought from states that have reported no cases of chronic wasting disease.

The order also places restrictions on the movement of cervids within Kentucky. Any animals moved without Fish and Wildlife personnel in attendance may be seized and destroyed.