Chronic debilitating disease: the public at risk
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is exposing the public to unnecessary risks by allowing deer meat from facilities affected by a contagious disease to end up on consumers’ plates, experts say.
Chronic debilitating disease (CWD), a central nervous system infection similar to mad cow disease, affects deer, elk, caribou and moose. The MDC was discovered on a farm in the Laurentians region of Quebec last August, resulting in the killing of 2789 red deer.
Although the 11 carcasses that were declared positive for the disease, as well as seven others, were destroyed, the rest were able to enter the food system, including 1000 young animals that have not been tested, since these are not sensitive enough to detect CWD in animals less than 12 months old, according to the CFIA.
This news came as a surprise to some experts, including Neil Cashman, professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia and a specialist in neurodegenerative diseases transmitted by prion proteins.
Although no case of transmission of chronic debilitating disease to humans has been documented, this can not be ruled out, according to the expert.
According to him, the CFIA has “played with fire” by allowing these meats to be on the market.
He mentions an ongoing study that suggests that CWD can be transmitted to other animals, including macaque monkeys. He also referred to the case of mad cow disease, which was originally not considered dangerous to humans, but was subsequently linked to a rare degenerative brain disease called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
Mr. Cashman adds that it is even possible that doctors do not recognize the MDC if it affects a human being, as it could take a different form.
“With all this knowledge about prion malignancy, their lifespan in the environment, their resistance to destruction and degradation, it is necessary to reduce the potential exposure to CWD,” he said. in a telephone interview.
CFIA defends itself
Health Canada notes that there is no evidence that the disease affects humans, but the ministry still recommends not to consume meat from infected animals. It also recommends that hunters take certain precautions when handling deer, elk and moose carcasses.
In an email, the CFIA indicated that it was in line with departmental direction.
“The Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada maintain that CWD-infected animals and animal products are prohibited from entering the Canadian food supply,” the agency wrote.
“The meat that entered the human food chain came from animals that are not known to be infected with CWD. ”
The email states that “CWD is not a known risk to human health or food safety, and that there have been no recorded cases in which humans would have been infected with the disease”.
The CWD was first detected in Canada in 1996 and has since spread to parts of Saskatchewan and Alberta. The deer farm in the Laurentians was the first documented case in Quebec.