U.S. Sens. Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl on Thursday introduced a bill designed to provide hunters with more opportunities to get their venison tested for chronic wasting disease. If the bill becomes law, the U.S. Department of Agriculture would be required to:

Release guidelines for the collection of animal tissue to be tested within 30 days.

Release a protocol to be used in the laboratory assessment of animal tissue that may be contaminated with the disease within 30 days.

Accelerate research into the development of animal tests for the disease, including tests for live animals and field tests, within 45 days.

The bill by the two Democrats is the latest attempt since the discovery of the disease in Wisconsin in February to address concerns about the safety of venison by providing better and faster tests by the government and the private sector.

Also, the senators charged the U.S. Department of Agriculture with moving too slowly in giving help to Wisconsin and other states that are afflicted with the deadly deer disease.

“The USDA has really dropped the ball in providing the necessary resources and assistance to assure that Wisconsin hunters have the information they deserve,” the senators said in a statement.

Ed Curlett, a spokesman for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Inspection Service, said the agency had not moved slowly and had sped up approval of new government labs for testing since the spread of the disease this year.

Within 30 days of passage of the bill, the measure would require the USDA to develop a program for the inspection and certification of federal, state and private labs to conduct tests for the disease.

Within 45 days, the bill says, the agency would have to accelerate research for testing on live animals, field diagnostic tests and developing protocols that would speed the turnaround time of lab tests.

Further, the bill requires the department to come up with a plan to prevent the spread of new diseases, such as epizootic hemorrhagic disease, a blood-borne pathogen that was discovered recently in same area of Wisconsin where chronic wasting disease has been discovered.

Currently, only federally approved labs are permitted to test for chronic wasting disease. State officials are planning to conduct about 50,000 tests this year, including 500 tests in nearly every county. That breadth of testing should help deer hunters understand how prevalent the disease is in their area, if it’s there at all, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

But as the disease has spread, demand for testing appears to be outstripping the capacity.

This prompted a Hayward business to announce last month that it would sell a testing kit directly to Wisconsin hunters this fall. Wildlife Support Services is getting around the federal approval requirement by packaging parts of the test separately.

The senators’ bill pleased William “Butch” Johnson, who is marketing the private test.

“I think it is great,” he said. “It not only could affect a small lab like ours. But it opens up the possibility of testing for other labs.”

Curlett, of the federal inspection service, emphasized that tests for chronic wasting disease were not a food safety test but were intended tomtest for the presence of disease.

He said the best thing for hunters would be to watch for testing results in the area where they hunt.

There have been 31 cases of chronic wasting disease in the wild deer population – all centered in a 389-square-mile region of Dane, Iowa and Sauk counties. One deer has tested positive on a Portage County game farm as well.

CWD ALLIANCE NOTE: This bill is known as S 3090 -Comprehensive Wildlife Disease Testing Acceleration Act of 2002, and can be viewed on this website under the “Policy & Legislative” tab.

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