Lawmakers hold hearing on chronic wasting disease

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) - There are over 800 family-owned deer farms in Pennsylvania, ranking the commonwealth second only to Texas. Those deer farmers are facing a serious problem: chronic wasting disease.

On Thursday, Department of Agriculture representatives spoke to members of the House Game and Fisheries Committee about steps being taken to battle the disease.

"The approach to addressing CWD must be comprehensive and inclusive," said Kevin Brightbill of Agriculture Department. "It is mission critical to educate farmers, hunters, and wildlife enthusiasts alike."

CWD was first identified in Pennsylvania in 2012. Since then, 49 deer have tested positive for the disease, including three last week in Blair and Lancaster counties.

At the hearing, Pennsylvania's Deer Farmer's Association president Jarrid Barry laid out the steps taken when CWD is identified on a deer farm.

"That farm is immediately quarantined by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. No animals move in or out of that facility," said Barry. "We deer farmers have vested interest in containing and, if possible, eliminating chronic wasting disease."

A euthanized herd costs deer farmers money and, in some cases, even their livelihoods.

"Although it comes with severe consequences to our farmers, the Department of Agriculture's CWD programs are proven effective," said Barry.

The Agriculture Department stressed continuing education of the disease, as well as optimism over new research that could lead to better testing for the disease in the future. 

The department says it is ready to go ahead with some of the new testing techniques being studied, but need to wait for USDA approval. 

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