Time is Right for Agriculture to Take on Deer

July 11, 2014

Time is right for agriculture to take on deer
DonDAVIS 8:28 p.m. CDT July 10, 2014
Springfield News-Leader


Much has been made recently about state legislation that would transfer oversight of farmed deer from Missouri's Department of Conservation to the Department of Agriculture. Opponents of the legislation are urging Governor Nixon to veto the bill. Arguments for such a veto are faulty, though, and risk making Missouri's family-owned deer farms an endangered species.

Opponents argue that oversight is needed from the Department of Conservation to lessen the risk of the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease, a deadly condition for deer, elk, and other animals for which there is no cure. CWD is an important issue for both deer farmers and hunters who seek to harvest wild deer. But transferring regulatory oversight will not harm efforts to mitigate CWD's spread.

Missouri deer farmers are already under stringent CWD testing requirements, as well as other health programs administrated by the Department of Agriculture, such as certification and accreditation for tuberculosis and brucellosis. Herds have to be tested every three years and declared disease-free.

Regulation is important, but it has to be sensible. What's not sensible is a rash of regulations put forth by the Department of Conservation, which last month adopted onerous rules that would impose undue costs on deer farmers in Missouri. Among them is a ban on imports of live deer from other states.

A ban on imports would harm deer farms by not allowing them to replenish their herd with genetically diverse stock. No deer farmer would ever want to import a deer with CWD. It would destroy his business and his hard work – his herd would likely have to be eradicated.

And the USDA last month released guidelines for a voluntary herd certification program to certify herds that are low-risk for CWD. At least five years of mortality testing with no evidence of CWD are required before herd owners can achieve certified status and be eligible to move their animals interstate.

Here are the facts: Chronic Wasting Disease is a rare condition among any kind of deer. Not only that, but it's about twice as prevalent in wild deer and elk as in captive deer and elk, according to federal data.

Records collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1998 to 2012 show that CWD occurs in less than 1 percent of the deer population.

CWD is found in free-ranging deer, but not in captive deer, in 10 states.

Texas has not allowed importation of white-tailed or mule deer for more than five years, and that did not stop CWD from getting into wild mule deer along the border with New Mexico, a state where game farming is banned.

The neighboring states of Kansas, Iowa and Oklahoma already regulate farmed deer as livestock under their state agriculture departments. So do Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin.

The time is right for this legislation moving regulatory oversight from Conservation to Agriculture. Otherwise, family-run deer farms and their contributions to the economy will head toward extinction.

Don Davis is an associate professor at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and serves as a scientific adviser to the American Cervid Alliance.


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