The Assembly of First Nations in Ottawa gathered on Thursday, December 6 to pass a resolution for the phasing out of commercial wild game farming in Canada, due to its involvement with the spreading of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), a sentiment that is being reverberated by the Alberta Liberal Party.
CWD is an infectious disease that has high rates of prevalence in Saskatchewan and Southern Alberta and infects various cervids such as Deer, Elk, Moose and Caribou.
The disease spreads through body fluids such as saliva and the infected prions are typically transferred among the populations through grass and feed.
Once a member of the population is infected, the disease incubates in the animal over a period of years before initial signs are noticeable.
As the name states, it's characterized by rapid weight loss, which leads to the animals death.
The disease has close relation to game farming, which is described by the Alberta Wilderness Association as "the domestication and commercial marketing of native and non-native wildlife for a variety of products, (including meat, hides, feathers, and antlers) or for paid hunting."
Alberta Liberal MLA Dr. David Swann says, the origins of CWD can likely be traced back to game farming and so long as they still exist, the disease is likely to continue to thrive as farms provide a hotbed for the disease to spread.
"When you confine wild animals, you increase their inbreeding, you increase their stress levels and you increase the contamination among them, which doesn't happen as readily in the environment. If it, as we believe it did, start on a game farm in the United States and was transmitted when the animals were bought and brought up to Canada, it's now spreading into the wild and causing considerable risk."
According to Alberta Environment and Parks "There is no evidence that CWD infects livestock or humans. However, health authorities recommend taking precautions."
However, Swann is not convinced that the disease is entirely harmless to humans.
"Recent studies at the University of Calgary show that monkeys that ate infected meat, did get the disease. So there is the potential of human infection, but the major thing is the threat to wildlife and the threat to our agriculture industry. Norway has already banned all hay and grass from all the areas in North America that have this wasting disease."
Swann says the continual spreading of CWD will carry a myriad of consequences.
"It's now spreading into the wild and is causing considerable risk not only to the animals themselves. Let me remind us that the First Nations depend on wildlife for their meat source throughout the year. They have said that they see this as a serious threat to their treaty rites and their perpetual access to fish and game."
Swann suggests that game farmers will require an action plan out of the business and they'll need some help to make that transition possible.
"So we need to have a reasonable transition out of game farming. We need to provide a transition for farmers who need to go into something else. The Federal and Provincial governments will have to come together to decide to end game farming in Canada, which means as governments we will need to pay for these animals, they'll need to be slaughtered and their heads will need to be tested for the disease. Assuming that most of them don't, that meat would still be available for consumption, but the farms would need to be phased out in a gradual way and farmers compensated."
Apart from the testing and culling of infected herds, Swann says the dismantling of game farming is the cornerstone to ending the problem of CWD.
"The bottom line here is the governments promoted this industry in the eighties, we now have a serious infectious disease problem that is undetectable, incurable and fatal. We have to deal with it in a much more comprehensive and serious way than we have in the past. It's threatening not only our Indigenous communities and their livelihoods, it's also threatening our agricultural industry and potentially human health. So we have to move on this."
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