USDA APHIS Publishes Revised CWD Program Standards Document

American Cervid Alliance Provides Initial Review of Changes

USDA APHIS announced the revised CWD Program Standards Document have been published and are now in effect. The document is the product of a three and a half year review process that started with a United States Animal Health Association resolution in 2015 offered by the American Cervid Alliance. The Working Group met several times over the course of 2016, which included three industry representatives- Charly Seale of the Exotic Wildlife Association, Travis Lowe of the North American Elk Breeders Association and Skip West of the North American Deer Farmers Association. A public comment period ensued that generated hundreds of comments. The industry was cautiously optimistic for several changes to take place in the new document.
After the initial review of the new document, the American Cervid Alliance compared the new version with the comments submitted to USDA APHIS during the public comment period. The ACA comments, which noted both positive and harmful points of the proposed document, was vetted and approved by roll call vote of the ACA member association in April 2018.
Several positive changes were made in the new version. For example, the new version removed references to ten-foot fencing that was always in excess of the Federal Rule. The new version also adds clarifying language to help avoid “spider web trace-outs.” The new version also adds protocol to use live testing as a tool for trace herds for whitetail deer. These changes are welcomed by the industry and the ACA is grateful.
However, many of the concerns voiced by the industry noting harmful and ambiguous language remain in the document. In fact, of the ACA member association comments submitted during the public comment period, 13 of the 17 submitted requests remain in the new document. Notable language in the harmful document includes the following:
Mention of Double Fencing: The USDA APHIS Chronic Wasting Disease Federal Rule does not mention double fencing at all. However, in the new Program Standards document, a reminder is made for states they can use double fencing requirements. Deer and elk operations do not support an unfunded mandate that would require the double fencing of their ranch when science has shown it will not stop CWD from entering our facilities. State wildlife agencies and other opponents of the cervid industry use these USDA approved suggestions against the industry in propaganda and the ruling making processes.  Part A, Section 4 (page 25)
Definition of CWD-Susceptible Cervid Species Authorizes APHIS to Regulate, not only by Natural Infection, but also by Experimental Inoculation. The proposed Program Standards add a new definition for CWD-Susceptible Cervid Species. The USDA APHIS Chronic Wasting Disease Federal Rule only applies to cervid species known to naturally contract the disease. The new document adds cervid species that can be experientially inoculated with CWD and adds them to CWD protocol. There is not a known “lethal dose” for Chronic Wasting Disease. Experimental inoculation is supernatural, not natural. This may be the most egregious addition to the Program Standards document. In fact, this unprecedented change directly contradicts the Federal Rule. USDA APHIS Chronic Wasting Disease Federal Rule lists only three genera: Odocoileus (Whitetail Deer, Mule Deer, Blacktail Deer), Cervus (Elk, Red Deer, Sika Deer) and Alces (Moose). Numerous attempts have been made by regulators to arbitrarily add additional cervid species. The USDA APHIS Chronic Wasting Disease Federal Rule implemented in 2012 states in its background notes that APHIS “have not expanded coverage to genera in which no species has demonstrated susceptibility via natural routes of transmission. To do so would extend the requirements of this rule without a sound basis, unnecessarily increasing the burden on regulated parties, especially zoos with large and varied animal collections. We are prepared to extend the definition in the future if new research demonstrates additional species in other genera are susceptible to CWD by natural routes of transmission.
Requirement to Test Cervids Harvested at Hunting Ranches for CWD. The revised CWD Program Standards require herds enrolled in the HCP to submit samples of “all animals under their ownership sent to hunting ranches.” This also becomes problematic for owners of both trophy ranches and breeding facilities that are owned by the same person, whether they are different premises or not.  Part A, Section 5.2 Mortality Reporting and Routine Surveillance. (Page 27).
Requirement to Test Slaughter Animals for CWD. The revised CWD Program Standards requires herds enrolled in the HCP to submit samples on “all animals under their ownership sent to hunting ranches and/or slaughtered.”  Part A, Section 5.2 Mortality Reporting and Routine Surveillance. (Page 27).
Elk Industry Overlooked for Ante-Mortem Testing of Herds that Contain or Contained CWD-Exposed Animals. It is a historic change for the Program Standards to use ante-mortem testing as a management tool. However, the proposed document only applies to whitetail deer. The door is not open to elk, or other species, as science becomes available. This means a new re-write of the Program Standards would have to take place including a clearing process and comment period before elk or other species can be added. This is a minimum two year process from start to finish. (For reference, the current revision process has already exceeded 43 months as of May 2019).
Invitation for Draconian Polices. There is no reason to remind states they can add more strict requirements. Some states, like North Carolina, have used this as precedent for draconian polices.  Introduction (page 4).
Definition on “Annual Removal” Needs to be Clarified so Herd Owners are Not Responsible for Testing All Animals that Leave Herd Inventories. New language regarding missing samples has created a definition of “annual removals” that includes ANY animal removed from inventory. This definition needs additional clarity to ensure this excludes animals moved by change of ownership.Definitions (page 5). “Annual Removals: All adults (12 months or older) removed or lost from inventory for any reason since the previous annual inventory.”
APHIS Uses Genotypes Against Herds in Trace outs: As the industry breeds towards CWD resistant animals, there will be negative consequences for resistant herds when linked to a CWD positive animal/herd.  Given the success of the sheep industry’s use of Scrapie resistant animals, USDA APHIS should not punish the cervid industry for moving in this direction.  Appendix II: Guidelines for Use of Whole Herd Ante-Mortem Testing (Page 50). “C. Herds with fewer than 50 percent GG animals will not be permitted to use ante-mortem RAMALT testing.”
The American Cervid Alliance member associations will be meeting in June to discuss the document.