Renews Call For an End to Game Farms in Canada

OTTAWA, ON – The Canadian Wildlife Federation (CWF) is renewing its call to have the game farming industry in Canada decommissioned with compensation paid to farmers. This comes in response to an expert panel report on Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in Canadian Wildlife released today by the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre at the University of Saskatchewan. CWD is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy found in deer and elk (cervids). It belongs to the same family of diseases as mad cow.

The panel, made up of international scientists with the expertise to evaluate CWD in Canadian wildlife, concluded that CWD “is arguably the most important issue in the management of free-living cervids in North America. The disease has the potential to reduce cervid populations in the long-term, and to create major socio-economic impacts as observed in other areas in North America.”

CWF has been a long time opponent of game farming because of concern over the potential spread of disease to wild cervid populations. “Our greatest fears were realized when CWD was detected in the wild,” says CWF Executive Vice President, Colin Maxwell. CWD was likely introduced to wild deer in Saskatchewan as a result of “spill-over from infected farms” the report states. It has been identified on 40 game farms in Saskatchewan and three in Alberta. Subsequently, the disease was found in the wild in three areas of Saskatchewan in proximity to game farms.

The expert panel recommends a national plan be developed with the participation of federal and provincial governments that will monitor and manage CWD in the wild and increase research on the disease. The panel also recommends a comparable investment in the management of CWD in wildlife as has been made for managing the disease on game farms. “This would be significant,” says Maxwell, “given that the federal government has already spent tens of millions of dollars on surveillance, testing, and compensation to game farmers with infected animals.”

Although the report stopped short of calling for an end to game farms CWF believes this is inevitable. “This is clearly not a sustainable industry,” says Maxwell. “The industry is relying on compensation paid to farmers with diseased animals and other government support programs. All this at the expense of wildlife.”

Although pleased with the panel’s findings CWF is concerned that it may be too late to effectively implement much of the panel’s recommendations. This is especially so given that the panel acknowledged that the infectious prions could persist in the environment for years.

CWF first called for a federal environmental assessment on game farming in the late 1980’s out of concern over the risk of disease transmission to wild deer populations. After two decades of frustration with jurisdictional buck-passing between federal and provincial governments CWF took an unprecedented stance by calling for a complete ban on the industry in 2002.

“Game farming is one big field experiment that has failed, “says Maxwell. “It’s time for governments to admit they were wrong and shut this industry down.”

The full Report of the Expert Scientific Panel on Chronic Wasting Disease is available at http://wildlife.usask.ca.