NISKU, Alta.- Some deer producers are no longer submitting heads of dead animals for inspection for chronic wasting disease since the Canadian Food Inspection Agency refined its compensation program, says a farmer.

“A lot of people are no longer willing to send in heads because of it,” said Jim Mercier of Gibbons, Alta. He is a white-tailed deer producer whose farm has been under quarantine since October because he bought an animal from a farm where a deer has tested positive for chronic wasting disease, or CWD.

Canadian deer and elk producers are required to submit the heads of all animals that die on the farm or are killed in a slaughter facility to provincial laboratories for testing for CWD.

Since the disease was first discovered in the late 1990s, more than $33 million has been paid to producers for the destruction of 8,300 elk and deer on 42 farms. Of those, 231 animals have tested positive. The only test for the disease requires a sample of brain material from the heads of the dead animals.

But Mercier said a recent letter to producers from the agency outlines cuts to the compensation program and is a slap in the face to an industry already in financial difficulty.

“Because of that letter all the game farmers are talking about not submitting heads,” said Mercier, who said he knows producers who have chosen not to submit the heads of dead animals because they won’t be fairly compensated for their animals.

In a Nov. 28 letter to Serge Buy, executive director of the Canadian Cervid Council, Carolyn Inch of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said the compensation program would be refined, effective immediately.

“The rationale for these modifications is in order to ensure that the Canadian taxpayers continue to receive good value for monies distributed from the Consolidated Revenue Fund,” Inch wrote.

“The dollar value paid for compensation of farmed cervids ordered destroyed is now exceeding 10 percent of the total value of the farmed national cervid herd prior to the impact of CWD.”

Compensation for animals ordered destroyed will now be based on a CFIA-staff developed table of current market values using national cervid markets. As well, owners of quarantined herds will be required to supply bills of sale and receipts for all animals moving in and out of the herd over the past two years.

George Luterbach, CFIA chief veterinarian, said the program was never intended to automatically pay the maximum $4,000 compensation amount to producers, but is based on fair market value.

Since the outbreak of the disease, the value of the animals has dropped dramatically and the compensation payments will reflect the lower prices.

“They aren’t automatically given the cap based on a price before the outbreak,” said Luterbach. “What we’re doing is clarifying the market value.”

Since the outbreak of the disease more than three years ago, the price of animals has dropped and sales have almost stopped. Some animals are selling for as low as $500.

Ed Nazaruk, a white-tailed deer farmer from Athabasca, Alta., said some producers have been offered $700 for their animals and are no longer willing to submit heads for testing.

“When you see a sick deer in the pen, what do you do?” he said.

Both Mercier and Nazaruk are part of a class action suit against Agriculture Canada for allowing the importation of diseased animals.