U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde–Smith introduced legislation to establish a unified response framework for combatting the threat of chronic wasting disease (CWD), a growing epidemic threatening white-tailed deer populations in Mississippi and at least 24 other states.
The Detection, Enhanced Education, and Response (DEER) Act of 2019 would direct the U.S. Department of Agriculture 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.
“Mississippi is on the geographic eastern-leading edge of the spreading CWD epidemic, which now affects 25 states. We have to get out in front of this,” said Hyde–Smith, who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Senate Agriculture Committee.
CWD is a contagious, always fatal neurological disease that affects white-tailed deer and other members of the deer family.
“Free-ranging whitetails don’t recognize state boundaries, and we cannot count of what other states have or are planning to do to combat this growing problem. A unified response framework would allow us to get a better grasp on the issue,” she said.
In addition to authorizing additional funding, the DEER Act would establish a CWD multi-agency task force led by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) with representatives from other relevant federal and state entities, and institutions of higher education. In addition, it would direct the Secretary of Agriculture to designate a land-grant university to serve as the Mid-South Center of Excellence in Wildlife Diseases to be the lead research institution on the disease.
Hyde–Smith noted that the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks (MDWFP) established a CWD surveillance program more than a decade ago. In February 2018, MDWFP confirmed the first positive case of CWD in Mississippi. Last week, the agency confirmed two new cases, bringing the total number of confirmed positives in Mississippi to 16 in just over a year.
“It hasn’t been exactly determined how CWD is transmitted, and there is currently no reliable test that can be performed on live animals,” Hyde–Smith said. “CWD is hitting home, but I believe Mississippi is well-positioned to lead in this fight with the Mississippi State University deer lab, college of veterinary medicine, extension service, and certified diagnostics laboratory system.”
She also stated that hunting is a billion dollar industry in Mississippi, and it’s a part of our culture and way of life. She said she’s not willing to sit back and allow CWD to be declared the winner.
The DEER Act has been referred to the Senate Agriculture Committee. The copy of the legislation is available.