Tag Archives: Deer

Deer meat from contaminated Quebec farm released for human consumption

Canadians are being warned about the spread of a deadly animal disease that has the potential to infect humans especially after some of the animals were released for human consumption.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is similar to mad cow disease (formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE). It infects deer, elk, and moose and it’s spread by a protein — called a prion — which has the unusual ability to spread between animals causing a deadly wasting disease.

There is no direct evidence that it can spread to humans, but recent research showing transmission to non-human primates (macaques) has heightened concerns.

Until last fall, CWD had only shown up in wild and farmed deer and elk in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

But in September 2018, a deer farm in Quebec had a major outbreak; 2,788 animals were destroyed and 11 animals were found to have been infected.

According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the rest of the animals that tested negative, along with younger animals under 12 months — 2,777 deer — were released for human consumption, a decision that remains controversial.

‘Should have destroyed the meat’

“They should have destroyed the meat,” said Alain Cossette.

He’s the executive director of the Quebec Federation of Hunters and Fishermen. He said he’s surprised the younger animals who were not tested were released into the food chain. (Deer under one year of age are not tested as this disease is less likely to be detected in young deer).

(Daniel Rofusz/CBC News)

Although CWD is not a known health or food safety risk, Cossette won’t take the chance of eating an infected animal.

“I will tell you, something that attacks your brain, I will never take that chance to eat an animal that can be contaminated, or maybe contaminated. I will never try that.”

Health Canada recommends that people avoid eating meat from animals known to be infected with the prion protein. There are precautions for hunters, too. They’re encouraged, when handling carcasses, to have those animals tested before eating the meat. 

But experts say it’s likely that Canadians are already eating deer and other wild game that is infected with CWD.

“Human exposure to CWD is quite widespread, in my opinion,” said Michael Coulthart, who tracks prion diseases with the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The more CWD there is, the more likely humans are exposed to it through consumption of meat.– Michael Coulthart, Public Health Agency of Canada

Although he said that humans don’t appear to be highly susceptible to disease after being exposed to CWD, he is fairly certain that exposure is taking place. “The more CWD there is, the more likely that humans are exposed to it through consumption of meat mostly.”

This week, a letter signed by more than 30 experts, including scientists, doctors, wildlife biologists and Indigenous leaders was sent to the prime minister calling for greater effort to control CWD.

Dr. Neil Cashman was one of the signatories. He’s a professor at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia and has researched prion diseases for over 20 years.

“I think CWD has the possibility of having more negative impact for Canada and its economy then did … mad cow disease,” he said. “I think we’re teetering on the edge of a catastrophe.”

The directives listed in the letter include:

  • Contain the geographic spread of CWD, for example, by banning the movement of deer, and potentially infected carcasses.
  • Prevent human exposure.
  • Fund independent, evidence-based initiatives to prevent the transfer of CWD via food and feed chains.

“I think the Canadian consumer should be very worried,” Cashman said. “The problem is the positive carcasses are being consumed all the time, with no knowledge, and no planning about how to reduce this risk.”

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Why did deer meat from an infected herd end up in Canada’s food chain?

This is an excerpt from Second Opinion, a weekly roundup of eclectic and under-the-radar health and medical science news emailed to subscribers every Saturday morning. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here

Last fall, a dangerous animal sickness — chronic wasting disease (CWD) — was detected in a Quebec deer farm. It was a disturbing development — the first sign of this highly contagious infection outside of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

There were almost 3,000 deer in the herd. Eleven tested positive for CWD. The rest — more than 2,700 animals — tested negative and were released into the food chain.

It was a controversial decision, in part, because so little is known about the human health risk from CWD.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s website cautions that: “A negative test result does not guarantee that an individual animal is not infected with CWD.”

“There is not currently a food safety test available for any prion disease,” CFIA’s spokesperson told CBC News in an email. “The tests that are used are the best available. In accordance with Health Canada’s precautionary approach, no animals known to be infected were released into the human food chain.”

CWD is similar to another frightening animal illness — mad cow disease, officially called “bovine spongiform encephalopathy” or BSE. It is a fatal infection in cattle that can be spread to humans through beef consumption.

Both CWD and BSE are caused by a strange protein — a prion— which can jump the species barrier, triggering a deadly cascade of neurological damage.

Worldwide, BSE has caused about 225 cases of human prion disease called “variant Creutzfeldt Jacob Disease (vCJD).” There is no treatment and no cure.

After an epidemic of mad cow disease in the U.K. more than two decades ago, governments developed strict controls to prevent BSE infected cattle from being processed for human food.

But so far there are few official controls in place to keep CWD out of the food chain. 

Is CWD a human health risk?

At this point, scientists don’t know whether CWD can infect humans. So far, no human cases of CWD have been detected.

But there is reason to be concerned, based on research showing that the CWD prion can cross the species barrier into non-human primates.

As a precaution, the World Health Organization and other health agencies recommend that no prion-infected meat should be consumed.

This undated photo provided by the journal Science shows white-tailed deer at the Colorado State University Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) Research Facility in Fort Collins, Colo. (Edward A. Hoover/Science/The Associated Press)

But experts say Canadians are unknowingly consuming meat from animals infected with CWD.

“Human exposure to CWD is quite widespread in my opinion,” said Michael Coulthard, who tracks prion diseases at the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The risk is highest for people who consume wild deer and elk.

“The big complicating factor is that CWD infected animals can be completely asymptomatic for a long time before they get clinical disease, so if you don’t test the animals you won’t necessarily have any clue that the animal is infected,” said Coulthard.

“In cases like that, it’s very likely that many people have been exposed through consumption of those harvested animals.”

For 20 years, Coulthard’s team has been tracking human prion disease in Canada. So far, there have been two cases caused by infected cattle. Both infections were traced back to the U.K. (There is also a sporadic form of human prion disease that appears spontaneously in about one or two out of every million people).

“We’re fairly confident that we haven’t seen obvious evidence for CWD having been transmitted to humans,” said Coulthard. But scientists suspect human infections from CWD might have unusual symptoms.

“It could look different,” said Coulthard. “Prions have repeatedly shown themselves to be sources of scientific surprise.”

“I think we’re teetering on the edge of a catastrophe, to use a very strong word.” ​​– Dr. Neil Cashman, prion scientist, UBC

Meanwhile, word is gradually spreading about ground breaking research by Canadian scientists who were able to infect some macaques with CWD by feeding them deer meat.

The results, if confirmed, would be the most compelling evidence so far that CWD could be a risk to humans.

But the study has not yet been published or peer reviewed, although it has been presented at two international prion conferences. The scientists, based at the Alberta Prion Research Institute, are completing follow-up experiments and plan to submit the work for publication soon.

Scientists, Indigenous leaders and wildlife advocates signed letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urging immediate action to stop the spread of chronic wasting disease in Canada. (CBC News)

At this point, Canada and the U.S. are the most heavily affected countries. But the disease has been found in Norway, Finland and Sweden. Scientists believe CWD is spread between animals through saliva, urine, blood and even though the soil.

Scientists demand action from Ottawa

A group of scientists, Indigenous leaders and wildlife advocates sent a letter to Ottawa this week asking the federal government “to recognize the dire nature of this epidemic,” and implement controls to stop the spread of CWD including closing game farms and prohibiting transport of CWD infected carcasses.

The letter also demands expanded testing for CWD to ensure the safety of the food supply.

“I think we’re teetering on the edge of a catastrophe, to use a very strong word,” said Dr. Neil Cashman, one of the prion scientists who signed the letter.

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Mikael Kingsbury stays golden at Deer Valley World Cup

Mikael Kingsbury is going downhill, fast.

Which just means more wins for Canada’s king of the moguls.

The Deux-Montagnes, Que., native earned his 13th straight gold medal on Thursday to complete the sweep at the World Cup in Deer Valley, Utah.

Kingsbury extended his win streak to 13 straight with his gold medal Thursday night at the FIS Freestyle Skiing World Cup event at Deer Valley in Park City, Utah.1:45

It was also his 48th first-place finish of his career, the most of any freestyle skier in history.

Kingsbury scored 88.80 points in the final, well clear of Kazakhstan’s Dmitry Reikherd in second (83.66) and Australia’s Matt Graham in third (82.37).

“I can tell you that this course is one of the hardest in the world and to ski under 26 seconds it’s quite an accomplishment and it’s very fast,” Kingsbury said. “But yeah, the guys were all pushing the limits so I had to push and bring out the best side of me and I was able to.”

Thursday’s win was Kingsbury’s ninth at Deer Valley in 14 events there since 2012. He also has three second-place finishes in Park City.

Kingsbury swept the moguls and dual moguls competitions at Deer Valley last February and hasn’t lost a World Cup since. His last second-place performance came in Calgary on Jan. 28, 2017.

“I’m happy with the results here,” Kingsbury said. “The track here is challenging both mentally and physically. This gives me confidence for the Olympics. To be able to perform under pressure like I did this week, it feels like a very good learning experience.”

The final moguls World Cup before the Olympics is scheduled for Jan. 20 at Mont-Tremblant, Que., about an hour’s drive from Kingsbury’s hometown.

“It is different to ski in front of friends and family members. They are used to certain results from me,” Kingsbury said. “I want to do well, but it is a new track. I have no expectations. I’m already having an incredible season.

“The important thing for me will be not to overdo it. I need to save some energy for the pre-Olympics camp and the Games themselves. Deer Valley was an important event because the track is difficult. It is also similar to what we will get in Pyeongchang, and I did a good job there.”

Earlier in the day, Canada’s Philippe Marquis, another moguls skier, announced on Instagram that he had torn his right ACL in training for the event on Monday. 

Marquis is still hopeful of representing Canada at the Olympics in February.

Naude finishes 5th

Andi Naude was the top Canadian woman, finishing fifth and improving one spot on her previous night’s performance.

Jaelin Kauf of the U.S. won gold with a score of 81.37, almost one point ahead of silver medallist Frenchwoman Perrine Laffont (80.38). American Morgan Schild finished third at 78.76.

The 22-year-old was unable to crack the podium, but did record her 5th top 5 finish of the season at the FIS Freestyle Skiing World Cup from Deer Valley in Park City, Utah.1:18

Naude, the Penticton B.C., native clocked in at 77.62. She’s won two bronze medals and finished in the top six at each of her competitions this year. 

Justine Dufour-Lapointe finished eighth, while sister Chloe was 14th.

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