Hyde-Smith: Chronic Wasting Disease will spread as flooding confines deer

U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) today sought a strong commitment that solutions to chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer will be a priority for researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as stipulated in the 2018 Farm Bill.

Hyde-Smith raised the issued at a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing titled, Agricultural Research and 2018 Farm Bill Implementation.  The 2018 Farm Bill included a Hyde-Smith amendment directing the USDA to prioritize CWD research.

“There is still much to learn about its cause, spread, management and control of CWD.  It has made its way to Mississippi, and I am really concerned about the impact it could have, because we have a billion dollar hunting industry,” Hyde-Smith said.  “In addition, a large area of my state, more than 500,000 acres, has been flooded now for more than six months, confining deer to very small areas and levees, which is obviously facilitating the spread of CWD.”

Hyde-Smith asked Dr. Scott Hutchins, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics, for a commitment to make CWD a research priority.  She also advocated USDA collaborating with land grant institutions like Mississippi State University (MSU), which has an established, widely respected whitetail deer research programs and CWD-relevant scientific and technical expertise.

Hutchins, a MSU graduate, concurred with the serious threat posed by CWD, a contagious, always fatal neurological disease that affects white-tailed deer and other members of the deer family.  He said that within available resources, USDA Agricultural Research Service scientists are working on CWD issues.

“The incubation period for this disease is two to four years, which makes it a particularly challenging from a technical standpoint. If we can develop a rapid, consistent testing regime, we think we can have a significant impact,” Hutchins said.

“It is a very significant disease and challenge for us that we want to contribute, and we will contribute to a solution in partnership with the land grants,” he said.

CWD is a growing concern in Mississippi, where the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks has a long-standing CWD surveillance program.

Hyde-Smith in February introduced the Detection, Enhanced Education, and Response (DEER) Act (S.613), which would direct the USDA to allocate additional resources directly to state departments of wildlife and state departments of agriculture to develop and implement CWD surveillance, testing, management and response activities.   It would also establish a CWD multi-agency task force led by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service with representatives from other relevant federal and state entities, and institutions of higher education.