Researchers Confirm Theories of Indirect CWD Transmission

Research funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health confirms long-held theories that chronic wasting disease can be spread to deer through exposure to the carcasses or excrement of infected animals.

Chronic wasting disease is a mad cow-like disease that afflicts elk, white-tailed deer and mule deer. Like mad cow disease, chronic wasting disease is believed to produce abnormal proteins that gradually destroy brain tissues. The disease is always fatal and there is no known treatment to prevent the disease.

University of Wyoming researcher — and coauthor of the NSF/NIH study — Elizabeth Williams said of the findings,

We’ve had a great deal of circumstantial evidence suggesting that indirect transmission occurs. The experimental findings show that we need to consider several exposure routes when attempting to control this disease.

So far there is no evidence that chronic wasting disease is a threat to human health, but federal and state officials recommend against eating the meat of animals known to be infected with the disease.


New research supports theory that indirect transmission of chronic wasting disease. Press Release, National Science Foundation, May 12, 2004.

New York Gov. Pataki Vetoes Canned Hunt Legislation

Despite lobbying efforts by a number of animal rights groups, New York Gov. George Pataki (R) vetoed legislation designed to outlaw so-called canned hunts.

In 1999, Pataki signed a bill that made it illegal to hold canned hunts on areas of ten acres or less. Not surprisingly, this had led to no less than 110 canned hunt operations in New York located on 11 or more acres.

The legislation vetoed by Pataki would have banned (emphasis added),

. . . the shooting or spearing of a non-native big game mammal that is confined in a box, pen, cage or similar container [of ten or less contiguous acres] or in a fenced or other area from which there is no means for such mammal to escape;

Animal rights activists denounced the veto.

In a press release, Humane Society of the United States senior vice president Wayne Pacell said,

Governor Pataki has embarrassed himself with this appalling veto of a bill to stop the repugnant practice of shooting animals for a fee in fenced enclosures. The animal protection community in New York will long remember his pardon of animal abusers and his rebuke of humane advocates.

Michael Markarian, The Fund for Animals president, added,

Governor Pataki has thumbed his nose at New Yorkers, including animal advocates, hunters, and upstate newspapers that called for passage of this humane bill. He has aligned himself with the handful of unscrupulous individuals who would pay big bucks to shoot a zebra ambling up to a feed truck or a Corsican ram trapped in the corner of a fence.

Pataki, meanwhile, said that the bill would not only have applied to the 110 canned hunt operations operating on more than 10 acres, but also would have banned 340 deer and elk farms throughout the state.

Supporters of the bill said that last part was nonsense, which puts the activists in a very odd position. For example, here’s a paragraph from a press release put out by The Fund for Animals addressing the issue of whether or not deer and elk farms would have been impacted,

Governor Pataki mistakenly believes that a ban on canned hunts would devastate white-tailed deer farms. The legislation is consistent with the current law which only deals with non-native mammals, and does not change the current exemption for domestic game breeders who raise white-tailed deer and have shoots on their properties. The bill would not apply to bird shooting preserves — only to operations offering the shooting of non-native big game mammals. Moreover, the bill memo indicated that it had no fiscal implications for state or local governments.

Hmmm . . . so The Fund for Animals’ position is that shooting a zebra at close range in enclosed space is inhumane, but screw the native deer and elk species? I’m just not following the logic there. Shouldn’t The Fund for Animals response to Pataki be that hunting deer and elk in enclosed spaces is cruel and that Pataki should want to outlaw the practice? The “don’t worry, we don’t care if you kill deer or elk” line is a bit strange coming from an animal rights group. Especially so since The Fund for Animals’ Dora Schomberg issued a brief press release about the veto that among other things claimed,

Governor Pataki may attempt to masquerade as an animal advocate by occasionally signing some non-controversial legislation to protect dogs or cats, but his decision to veto this much-needed legislation will result in untold suffering for wild animals and it reveals that he is not a genuine advocate of humane treatment.

So Pataki is not a genuine advocate because he only favors cats and dogs, while we’re supposed to believe The Fund is even though it hangs out deer and elk to dry? Could we see just a little consistency from these groups on occasion?

The full text of the vetoed legislation can be read here.


Pataki Endorses Cruel Treatment of Wildlife–Governor Vetoes Popular Canned Hunt Bill. Press Release, The Fund for Animals, August 27, 2003.

Activists out to can hunt. Amy Sacks, New York Daily News, September 13, 2003.

New York Governor Pataki Betrays the Animals. Press Release, Humane Society of the United States, August 28, 2003.

New York Governor Pataki Endorses Cruel Treatment of Wildlife. Press Release, Dora Schomberg, The Fund for Animals, August 27, 2003.

Is Alberta Being Hypocritical about Canned Hunts?

A few weeks ago I wrote about the decision by the Alberta government not to allow canned hunts at private game farms (see Alberta Premier Outlines the Horrors of Canned Hunts). Alberta premier Ralph Klein said that shooting animals in confined, penned-in areas was “abhorrent.” Game farmers in Alberta now want to know why, if canned hunts are really so horrible, the government itself is engaged in the practice.

Serge Buy of the Canadian Cervid Council, which represents elk and deer ranchers, told the Edmonton Journal that Alberta currently sells hunting licenses so that people can shoot elk on fenced-in land own by the province.

The government responded that the difference is a matter of size — elk hunted at the Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation area, for example, have 97 square kilometers to roam compared to game farms which are as small as just 100 hectares (roughly .6 square kilometers).


Elk ranchers renew debate over hunt farms: Province accused of contradictory policy. Dennis Hryciuk, The Edmonton Journal, September 7, 2002.

Alberta Premier Outlines the Horrors of Canned Hunts

After a meeting of a government caucus to consider the issue, Alberta Premier Ralph Klein announced that deer and elk game farms in Alberta would not be allowed to offer hunters the opportunity to shoot the game. Deer and elk game farms are struggling financially, and had hoped opening up their facilities to hunters might make them profitable.

Like all arguments against canned hunts, Klein fell back on some vague metaphysical view of hunting that requires some poorly defined amount of fairness in order to be legitimate. According to Klein,

To go to a hunt farm and shoot a penned-up animal, an animal that doesn’t have a chance, I think it’s abhorrent. . . . I think it’s abhorrent to take wild animals and have them penned up and available to hunters who don’t want to take the time to go out into the wild.

Good for Klein. If he allows canned hunts, what’s next? Someone will come along with the audacity to suggest outright domestication of animals and all of a sudden Alberta would be burdened by the horrors of settled animal agriculture. Chickens, cows and other animals would be held by farmers and just marched off to slaughterhouses without even a chance at escape. How sporting would that be?

If Klein is a vegan and plans next to dismantle all animal agriculture in Alberta, then he is wrongheaded but at least principled. More likely, however, Klein is here engaging in a common hypocrisy that places the hunting of deer and elk in enclosed environments on a different moral plane than raising cattle destined for the slaughterhouse. There is no justification at all for this sort of silly distinction.


Alberta rejects hunting deer and elk on game farms. Canoe.Ca, August 8, 2002.

Game farms ‘abhorrent.’ Michelle Mark, Calgary Sun, August 8, 2002.

The Chronic Wasting Disease Controversy

ConsumerFreedom.Com published a review of concerns about chronic wasting disease in deer and elk (often referred to as “mad deer disease.”) Like Mad Cow Disease and Cruetzefeld-Jakobs, CWD involves prions that cause lesions to form in the brain of deer and elk. The current debate is centered around what, if any, risk the disease poses to human beings.

In deer and elk, the disease was first identified in the late 1970s in deer that were held in captivity. The perception, however, is that the disease has spread rapidly with some studies suggesting that as many as 3 percent of deer in some areas may be suffer from CWD.

A major problem in assessing the extent of the risk to human beings is that no one knows how CWD is transmitted. The Mad Cow epidemic was caused when tissues from the central nervous system and brains from cows were fed back to other cows after the rending process. But CWD is clearly infectious in the wild without requiring such an elaborate transmission method, and has also jumped to elk.

As The Center for Consumer Freedom noted, groups such as the Organic Consumers Association and people like John Stauber, author of Mad Cow USA, are claiming that CWD has already killed humans. They point to four cases of young people who died from CJD.

CJD generally kills people in their 60s and 70s, so several cases of the disease among young adults certainly calls for investigation. The Center for Disease Control ruled out Mad Cow Disease as a possible culprit, at which point Stauber and others pointed out that two of the men who died were hunters and a third victim was the daughter of a hunter.

Stauber told The Wall Street Journal back in May that, “I think that we have to assume the worst of CWD — that it could be even more dangerous and costly than mad cow because of its unique ability to spread through the environment and animal to animal.”

This ignores a couple of salient points. First, Stauber never bothers to mention that the CDC also investigated whether or not exposure to CWD might have caused these individuals’ disease, and concluded that there was “no strong evidence for a causal link” between CWD and the deaths of the four people from CJD.

Moreover, Stauber’s claim that CWD can spread quickly from “animal to animal” is a distortion. Obviously it spreads among deer and elk, but there is apparently a species barrier that keeps it from jumping to other mammals. Cows penned in with deer suffering from CWD, for example, do not contract any sort of prion disease from the deer. Besides, the important issue for human beings is whether or not the disease can spread easily from deer/elk to human beings. So far the answer is no.

Even with Mad Cow Disease there is clearly a high species barrier that makes transmission to humans very difficult. Despite all of the claims that potentially tens of thousands of people would die in Great Britain, the number of actual cases of vCJD in the UK has been very small. Traditional food poisoning is a far higher risk to human beings than Mad Cow Disease.

Second, although researchers at the National Institutes of Health’s Rocky Mountain Laboratory were able to use CWD prions to transform healthy human prions into a deadly diseased form, this transformation turned out to be surprisingly difficult to do even under laboratory conditions.

Rather than the sort of hysteria that Stauber and his ilk promote, a better course is that already adopted by state and federal authorities who are proceeding on numerous fronts to find out once and for all how CWD is spread among deer and elk and what, if any, risk of infection it poses to human beings.

Of course, don’t look for animal rights activists to line up behind such research since it largely involves laboratory research with mice and other animals. In fact, it is fascinating to look at animal rights sites that mention Nobel Prize winner Stanley Prusiner’s ongoing research into prions without even a hint that Prusiner is working with laboratory animals.


‘Mad deer’ plague baffles scientists. Antonio Regalado, Wall Street Journal, May 24, 2002.

“Mad Cow”: A Review. Center for Consumer Freedom, July 10, 2002.

Study adds to ‘mad cow’ worries. Lou Kilzer, Rocky Mountain News, March 19, 2002.

Study: Deer with CWD considered edible. Larry Porter, The Omaha World-Herald, April 8, 2002.

The Prion Diseases. Stanley B. Prusiner.