Chronic Wasting Disease a Concern for Ontario

March 22, 2019 | By Josh Kraemer

Chronic Wasting Disease a Concern for Ontario

Last weekend CFFO staff attended the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters’ Conference on Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) to learn from the scientists about the potential threat of CWD entering Ontario. CWD, is a neurodegenerative disease that affects members of the deer family, including white-tailed deer, moose, elk, caribou, and mule deer, among others.

CWD slowly deteriorates the animal’s condition until death, and there is currently no vaccine or cure available for it. Luckily, it has not been recorded in Ontario since an outbreak in the 1970s, where it was contained to the Toronto Zoo. Still, the ease with which the disease could potentially spread if it enters Ontario is cause for concern, and farmers may have a role to play in prevention.

Currently, there is no direct evidence that CWD can affect humans, though health agencies strongly recommend against eating the meat of infected animals. To date, symptoms of the disease remain only in deer species, so the concerns are likely to be primarily focused on the implications of spread to these species in Ontario. However, there is a potentially more serious consequence of disease spread if it were to be scientifically determined that CWD can be transferred to humans. There is some concern that this might be possible given the established link between Mad Cow Disease (BSE), which has similarities to CWD, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) in humans.

The scientific contingent at the conference raised the concern that CWD could be spread throughout the environment, lingering in the grass and soil, making containment virtually impossible. As a prion disease, CWD is easily spread through bodily fluids and not easily eradicated given the measures that are required to destroy the prion protein. This means that direct contact between deer, or even contact with the same surfaces as an infected animal, could potentially result in the transmission of the disease.

A common location where transmission could happen is the area around grain bins and other agricultural sources where deer may feed. As the animals feed and/or relieve themselves, infected animals could be spreading the disease to other individuals coming to feed. For this reason, farmers will play an important role in containing this disease by ensuring feed storages do not spill feed. Some preventative policies have already been proposed in other jurisdictions.

Given the uncertainties about CWD spreading into Ontario, the risks to farmed deer herds, and the potential threats to other species, it is imperative that we stay alert to all indicators of its spread and that we support efforts for further research into CWD and its links to other prion-based diseases.  

Josh Kraemer is Communications Intern for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKXFM Chatham, and CKNX Wingham. It is also archived on the CFFO website, CFFO is supported by 4,000 family farmers across Ontario.