Dr. Swann Member Statement on Chronic Wasting Disease – 6 April 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Wednesday, April 6, 2017

Member Statement – Chronic Wasting Disease

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Chronic wasting disease, CWD, is a highly contagious, fatal, transmissible brain disease that threatens both wildlife and the entire agricultural sector. CWD spreads among cervids – deer, elk, moose, and caribou – and persists and remains infectious in the environment. An expert scientific panel years ago confirmed that CWD came to Alberta through captive elk imported from the U.S. in the ’80s. It is a sister disease to BSE, or mad cow disease, which crippled the agriculture sector in the U.K. and seriously compromised our own beef industry for a decade.

CWD is vastly more difficult to contain than BSE because the infectious prions move readily between living animals and have repeatedly actually jumped species barriers. The 2016 Alberta government update indicated that “the geographic distribution of CWD continues to expand” and now includes the Milk River, Red Deer River, North Saskatchewan River and northeast Alberta.

CWD poses a significant threat on at least two levels. The first is biological. In addition to animal-to-animal transfer, it persists in the environment and can infect other cervids through the soil and infect root systems of the plants growing in CWD-infected soils. This jeopardizes wildlife ecosystems and hunting- and wildlife-based communities such as our First Nations, who depend on deer and elk for food.

The second threat is economic. With the science and biological threats now documented, it’s only a matter of time before large markets such as Europe recognize CWD as a risk to their own wildlife, their landscapes, and their economies. This may result in a ban on North American agricultural products. Without immediate action to address these risks, repercussions are enormous. Only immediate, aggressive, and co-operative interprovincial control measures will mitigate this growing risk in both sectors. We need to remember the lessons from BSE and do something to get ahead of this.

Thanks, Mr. Speaker.