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Deer Velvet Imports Suspended From Canada

Deer velvet imports from Canada have been suspended by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry as a precaution after new surveillance showed that chronic wasting disease (CWD) may be more widespread in Canada's farmed elk industry than previously thought.

CWD is a spongiform encephalopathy. It is related to, but distinct from BSE and the sheep disease scrapie. It affects wild and farmed deer and elk in Canada and the United States. It has never been detected outside of North America.

Canadian authorities embarked on a disease surveillance programme last year after CWD was discovered there, and detected CWD in 17 herds, with a total of 35 infected animals.

New Zealand is free of CWD. Canadian deer velvet is however imported into New Zealand by processors who process and re-export it.

Stuart MacDiarmid, MAF's Risk Analysis National Manager said MAF had previously assessed the risk of imported deer velvet infecting deer in this country and found the risk to be non-existent.

"Until now, New Zealand has allowed the import of deer velvet from Canada on the basis that CWD appeared to be a lot less common in Canada, than the United States.

"However, with the new information coming to light from the surveillance programme, the Ministry had to suspend importation until the distribution of the infected herds can be established and the possible disease risks clarified."

Dr MacDiarmid said any risk to people is likely to be extremely small. Scientific work published last year strongly suggests that the agent that causes CWD is unlikely to be able to infect humans.

"It should also be kept in mind that there is no evidence that the agent causing CWD is present in deer velvet. However, a precautionary approach is warranted because velvet is taken as a dietary supplement by some people." The New Zealand Ministry of Health has been notified.

CWD in deer is fatal. Affected animals show signs of nervous disease such as staggering, they drink a lot of water, salivate profusely and waste away. The common cause of death is severe pneumonia due to inhalation of food or saliva because they are unable to swallow properly. Surveillance for the disease relies on appropriate examination of deer showing the above signs.

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