Considerations for meat processors accepting venison to prevent spreading Chronic Wasting Disease

Protocol for meat processors to follow when accepting venison this hunting season.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a neurological disease that affects cervid (deer, elk or moose) animals. It can be transmitted through direct animal to animal contact or contact with saliva, urine, feces, blood, certain carcass parts such as brain tissue and spinal cord of an infected animal. The disease can also be spread via infected soil. Prions, which are single proteins, are what cause the infections and are not easily killed by traditional strategies such as heat. Research from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston has shown prions have been able to bind to the roots and leaves of wheat grass plants when incubated with contaminated material, even when incubated in highly diluted amounts. They also found that plants grown in infected soil can transport the deadly prions. Hamsters that were fed the contaminated plants contracted CWD in the research project. There is additional information on CWD, including from the State of Michigan. Although current research has found no direct link from CWD to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend not consuming venison from infected deer. Michigan State University Extension highly recommends that venison from a positively infected CWD deer not be consumed. This brief background is meant to emphasize that CWD is a serious emerging disease in Michigan and meat processors can take steps to prevent the spread of it.

When accepting and handling deer, especially from the CWD core area and management zones, core area DMU 333 as well as DMU 359, wear rubber or latex gloves. Testing is encouraged for DMU 419 as well. Ask the following questions on incoming deer:

  • Where was this deer/venison harvested?
  • Was the deer taken to a DNR check station?
  • Was the deer tested for CWD (it should have a yellow tag/number attached to it)?

If you receive a carcass or whole muscle meats that have been tested for CWD, isolate the carcass and meat products. This can be done as easily as covering the carcasses with plastic bags and creating space between other carcasses. This separation is preferably done on a separate rail but a separate pallet in the cooler could also be used. It is also recommended to clearly identify segregated carcasses and hold from processing pending test results.  Do not process until the carcass has been cleared via test results from the DNR. If the deer comes back positive for CWD, or you receive notification that a carcass in your possession has tested positive for CWD, you have two business days to contact the DNR Wildlife Disease Laboratory at 517-336-5030. Results from CWD testing are available from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) for deer that are not found to have CWD within five to seven days of sample submission.

If you suspect the deer was taken from a CWD surveillance area but the hunter is not being forthcoming about this information, refuse to accept the deer and require it to go to a DNR checkpoint prior to accepting it. Suspicious actions include boneless venison/wild with no tag attached or vague information related to where the animal was taken from. As a processor or taxidermist, you are required to contact the DNR Wildlife Disease Laboratory at 517-336-5030 if you receive carcasses harvested from the DMUs 333 or 359 as well as from another state if there is no DNR CWD survey tag or negative test result accompanying the carcass, deboned meat, hide, skull, etc. It might be helpful to post facts from the MDNR and maps linked above to explain CWD to hunters as you receive carcasses and wild game.

If you are processing deer from DMU 333 or 359, the waste, inedible materials, spinal cord, brain tissue and other material must be handled in a specific manner. Waste created from the processing of the carcass should be bagged and sent directly to a landfill. Do not render, burn, compost, or place in the environment parts from deer that potentially have CWD as this could contaminate the environment or soil and spread the disease. Additional recommendations are available from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Segregate any suspect venison from larger comingled batches of sausages/snack sticks/etc. and do not process until the test results come back negative. Additional processing protocols, including sanitizing knives, equipment and surfaces in a 50% bleach 50% water sanitizing solution for one hour, to help stop the spread of CWD. More information can be found online.

A printer-friendly protocol of steps to take for incoming deer from Michigan State University Extension is available online. Share this information with your employees.

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