Meat processors play waiting game

Experts uncertain about scope, transmission of disease

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- Meat processors are worried that chronic wasting disease will be found in Minnesota's wild deer, forcing them to stop making venison sausage for hunters.

So far, there is no evidence that chronic wasting disease can be transmitted to humans by eating venison. But experts are warning people not to eat brain and nerve tissue of wild deer and elk until further research determines whether the disease can sicken humans after incubating for a decade or more.

Bob Lau, president of the Minnesota Association of Meat Processors, is among many seeking answers about the fatal animal disease. He wants to know how many infected deer will turn up in controlled kills now taking place in Wisconsin.


The controlled kills are being done in south-central Wisconsin, where the disease has been diagnosed in 24 wild deer since last year. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources plans to test at least 36,000 deer shot by hunters in all 72 counties this fall.

"Deer hunting is a big concern in the state of Wisconsin, as it is in Minnesota," Lau said. "We're just waiting to see what happens there."

If the disease has spread in Wisconsin, Lau said he believes Minnesota will find the disease as well.

That's a concern not only for meat processors like Lau, but for hunters and for Minnesota elk farmers, who fear their herds could be infected by wild deer. The mode of transmission is unknown.

Some processors and health experts worry that meat-processing equipment could be contaminated.

Researchers say the pathogen that causes chronic wasting disease may be difficult if not impossible to destroy with heat, disinfectants or medicine.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is working with the Agriculture Department and other agencies on a plan to educate hunters and processors this fall. In Wisconsin, officials are already printing 350,000 fact sheets for distribution at hunting and deer registration points.

Lau said he wants information from the DNR now rather than in the fall.


"If there was a problem with the deer herd somewhere, whether it was in Minnesota or Wisconsin, from a food safety standpoint, you wouldn't want to bring that product into your plant," he said.

In Barnesville, near the North Dakota border, Jim Schenck runs J&B; Meats, which processes about 38 tons of venison each year.

He believes the chronic wasting disease issue has been overblown.

"The more they talk about it, the more scared people are," he said. "Until we know more about it, I don't think they should be scared of it."

What To Read Next
Get Local