MADISON, Wis. – A legislative committee voted unanimously Thursday to continue allowing state agricultural officials to regulate deer and elk farms as part of the state’s battle against chronic wasting disease.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture also announced Thursday it would allow some experimental test kits to be used in federal and Wisconsin labs to test for the presence of CWD.

Tim Roby, a spokesman for Gov. Scott McCallum, said the kits will be tested in the labs to see how accurate they are. Positive results and some negative ones will be double-checked with approved methods currently in use.

Testing the kits in the lab is a step toward providing private hunters a method to test their deer, Roby said. Currently, private hunters in Wisconsin do not have a way to test deer they cull in this fall’s hunt.

“It’s a good first step. But it’s not as far as we need to go,” Roby said.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection created emergency rules in April and May regulating game farms as part of the state’s fight to eliminate CWD. But the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules was required to approve extending the department’s authority to keep those rules in effect through June 1.

The department is working on permanent rules that would need legislative approval to go into effect, possibly next year.

The rules include:

• Testing all farm-raised deer and elk 16 months and older for chronic wasting disease if they’re shipped to slaughter or die on the farm.

• A ban on importing wild or domestic deer into Wisconsin without proof the animals come from a herd that has been in a state-approved CWD certification program for at least five years.

• Imported animals can come only from herds whose owners keep extensive records on causes of death.

• No live deer or elk can be shipped off farms unless the herd is enrolled in the Wisconsin herd monitoring program for a year.

Some committee members said they were concerned the regulations overburdened some deer and elk farmers and could drive them out of business. The required tests are at least $60 each.

But Rep. Tom Hebl, D-Sun Prairie, said the cost shouldn’t be an issue.

“I want you to err on the side of safety,” he said.

The Department of Natural Resources announced in February that three bucks shot in the Mount Horeb area last November had the disease, the first time it has been found east of the Mississippi River.

Since then, nearly 1,500 deer have been killed in the area in special hunts designed to wipe out the deer herd of 25,000 in the infected area and determine how widespread the disease is. Testing at a laboratory in Iowa found 28 additional deer – or roughly 2 percent – were infected with the disease.

The final one-week summer hunt begins Saturday. U.S. Reps. Mark Green and Paul Ryan plan to take part in the hunt.

Terry Burkhardt, director of the state Bureau of Meat Safety and Inspection, said chronic wasting disease has never been found in the muscle of the deer, only the spinal cord and brain. He said all indications are the meat is safe to eat.

© Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance