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Chronic wasting disease threat neglected, advocates say

Some Alberta First Nations, as well as hunting and conservation groups, are asking federal party leaders this election to get serious about the potential threat from chronic wasting disease.

First Nations and Alberta Liberal leader weigh in on debate

Chronic wasting disease is not known to affect humans. (CBC )

​Some Alberta First Nations, as well as hunting and conservation groups, are asking federal party leaders this election to get serious about the potential threat from chronic wasting disease (CWD).

The disease, which attacks the nervous system of animals, has been found among elk and deer populations both in the wild and in game farms across North America — including here in Alberta.

"It's a 100 per cent fatal. There's not a treatment for it. The prevalence is increasing," said Wayne Lowry with the Alberta Fish and Game Association.

Brian Lee, with the Ermineskin Nation tribal council, says the government needs to act before it becomes an epidemic within wildlife populations.

"If this gets worse, can we use the animal? Can we use the different parts for our ceremonies?" he asked.

The disease belongs to a family of fatal, degenerative infectious diseases called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, according to Alberta's Ministry of Agriculture.

Economic risk?

They include mad cow disease — or bovine spongiform encephalopathy — and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann says officials need to get serious about the potential threats of chronic wasting disease. (CBC)

While mad cow disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease affect cattle and humans, chronic wasting disease affects species like elk, mule deer and white-tailed deer.

According to the Alberta government, CWD is not known to affect humans.

The groups listed as supporting the warning include the Alberta Fish and Game Association, the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation, the Hunting for Tomorrow Foundation as well as the Piikani and Ermineskin First Nations. They believe game farms have contributed to the spread of the disease.

Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann is also lending his support and says the threat of CWD could also pose an economic risk.

"The chances may be small that this will spread into other species like cattle or humans, but the perception of risk to wildlife internationally would be enough to boycott our plants and seeds across the world," he said.

The provincial government says it has detected nearly 300 cases of CWD in wild deer across Alberta since September 2005, and has operated a surveillance program on animals like deer, elk and moose since 1996.

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