Chronic wasting disease in deer: repercussions still palpable

Chronic wasting disease in deer is the counterpart of mad cow disease or scrapie. The alteration of a protein causes irreversible degeneration of the nervous system leading to death. Affected individuals can contaminate the environment or its congeners through bodily fluids – blood, saliva, urine – as well as through faeces. As the prion responsible for this disease is resistant in the soil and over time, concerns remain about the survival of the wild deer population.

In Quebec, in August 2018, the discovery of a 14-month-old red deer showing clinical signs and having been declared positive in the laboratory thanks to tissues taken at the slaughterhouse raised the alarm and created a real tsunami for the red deer livestock industry in the province. . This discovery on a red deer farm brought the spotlight to the industry. Quebec breeders were then singled out as responsible and the only ones capable of spreading this disease.


The disease was first discovered in 1969 in Colorado among subjects at a research station studying mule deer whose pregnant females were captured from the wild and then released after giving birth within the station. The idea was to work with puppies more accustomed to this new environment, bottle-fed and therefore more docile. Most people didn’t remember that in these first five cases, these were wildlife subjects. It seems that at that time, the population fed the fauna deer with feed containing
animal meal and as with mad cow, this was the trigger.

devastating consequences

Although the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) investigation failed to identify the source of the disease in Quebec, the consequences were numerous and devastating for the red deer in Quebec.

Under prescription, the extermination of the largest deer farm in North America caused the Quebec industry to lose an important partner in terms of genetic improvement. Twenty-five years of embryo transfer and artificial insemination have passed.

The Association lost unparalleled influence. Thus, the farm Cerfs de Boileau, located in Grenville-sur-la-Rouge, in the Laurentians, which acquired its letters of nobility with the restoration, will never be again. Harpur Farms, also in the Laurentians, traded over a thousand deer a year from its herd, of course, but an additional 1,000 deer from other Quebec producers were also slaughtered, sold and traded there.

Producers missed the largest and most modern federal HACCP slaughterhouse, designed and built specifically for the temperament of this semi-domesticated animal.

The bad press made the consumer suspicious of the product after the destruction of this huge herd. The commercialization of more than 3,000 deer, slaughtered at once, clogged the market which saw prices and demand plummet. With no income, herders had to keep and feed unsold surplus animals, despite shortages and exorbitant forage prices.


Today, creators still struggle to sell their produce. Since September 2018, however, a sample for MDC analysis is systematically collected at the slaughterhouse on all deer aged 12 months and older. The carcasses are kept until the results are known. The traceability and rigor of the system made it possible to limit dissemination. To this day, everything leads us to believe that we would have eradicated CWD in the territory of Quebec, because no other case has been found on another farm or in the wild. Consumers can therefore be confident that venison is high quality and safe.

Gaétan Lehoux, President, Association Cerfs Rouges du Québec

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