Skip to comments.Town's Venison Banquet Puts a State on Alert
Posted on 04/09/2005 8:07:01 PM PDT by neverdem
VERONA, N.Y., April 7 - For years, David L. Smith cooked wild game for his Fire Department's annual fund-raising sportsmen banquet. It was his way to help out after he retired from the department's volunteer corps.
At this year's banquet, on March 13, more than 300 townsfolk sampled his dishes - the venison meatballs, chili and patties. Three weeks later, Mr. Smith was trying to forget the whole affair with a whiskey at the local V.F.W. "My wife said they'd come to get me," he said.
Through unlucky circumstance, tissue samples from a deer that one farmer donated for the banquet tested positive for chronic wasting disease, and the results were discovered after the meat had been eaten at the banquet. It is the deer version of mad cow disease, and the first documented case in New York.
Though people have become ill with mad cow disease from eating infected beef, no human is known to have become ill by eating infected venison. No one has even remotely blamed Mr. Smith. But his trepidation and dejection about the disease seemed to be felt throughout this rural area some 250 miles northwest of Manhattan, where deer hunting is part of the culture. "It's scary to a lot of people," said the V.F.W.'s bartender, Diana Dodge.
Since the disease was found, agriculture, health and environmental workers have been trying to find out how it came here and how many of the state's 10,000 deer might be infected.
The deer that tested positive was one of 18 being raised by an outdoors enthusiast, John Palmer, who lives in Westmoreland, a neighboring town.
Mr. Palmer operates a neatly kept taxidermy business in his garage, where deer mountings lined the entranceway and a black bear was still being stuffed. He sent the sample from the deer he donated as part of an annual state-mandated monitoring program - not because he was suspicious of infection.
Shortly after the first case was found, the state killed his entire herd to learn about the spread of the disease. Mr. Palmer appeared as dejected as the cook, saying with a shrug, "I'd love to comment, but I've been told by my attorney not to."
Tests later showed three other deer from Mr. Palmer's farm were also sick. "It wasn't all 18," said Jessica Chittenden, a spokeswoman for the state's Agriculture Department. "This leads us to believe it was a fairly recent introduction."
Investigators also linked the recent death of another deer to the disease. It was on land owned by Martin Proper, who lives near Mr. Palmer and obtained the deer from him.
Next week, conservationists will begin shooting 420 wild deer in the area to see if they, too, have the disease. Hubert A. Pritchard, a dairy farmer and the Westmoreland town supervisor, gave permission for hunting on his farmland, though his wife was sad about it. "I like to see the deer," said Nancy Pritchard, resting in a chair in her driveway, with a cat snuggling by her feet and a cow giving birth in the pasture across the road.
"If they take that many deer out of the area, it'll be a long time before they come back," Mr. Pritchard said. "But we don't know a lot about this disease, and I feel, err on the side of caution."
Another neighbor, Leo Wierzbicki, said he hunted every season and would eat the venison in his freezer. The Pritchards's son, James, agreed, "You don't stop eating beef because of mad cow disease."
Chronic wasting disease can be transmitted among deer through food and contact, scientists say. It is a part of a family of diseases that scientists believe are caused by a malformed protein, or a prion, that affects the brain and is always fatal.
Though the disease has not jumped between species, it is theoretically possible. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises people against eating infected venison as a precautionary measure.
At the National Prion Disease Pathology Surveillance Center at Case Western Reserve University, experiments in transgenic mice are under way to determine the likelihood of the disease jumping from deer to humans, said Dr. Pierluigi Gambetti, director of the pathology center. Researchers are also trying to map out its unique characteristics, so that if it ever appears in humans, it can be easily linked to the deer disease and not to other prion diseases that kill 300 people annually nationwide.
"Prion diseases are serious issues for public health," Dr. Gambetti said, because they affect both humans and animals, are contagious and are very infectious. For example, the diseases are thought to survive on surgical tools even after sterilization, he said.
Dr. Alfonso Torres, executive director of an animal health diagnostic center at Cornell University, said little research money for prion diseases had been spent on chronic wasting disease. "There are still a lot of scientific gaps in how the diseases work and are transmitted," he said, adding that scientists learned a lot from the mad cow threat that swept through Europe.
The Oneida County Health Department notified several hundred people who may have attended the banquet, and 68 of them responded, said spokesman Kenneth Fanelli, adding, "They're not particularly alarmed or concerned."
Many were reassured that other states had dealt with this disease for decades without human infection, he said, adding, "You can't ignore the 30 years of history."
At the V.F.W., Jack Knight agreed. He had eaten the venison and was joking with Mr. Smith, the cook. "It's no big deal," he said. "What are you going to do besides slap yourself upside the head? They say there's no danger."
"It will affect attendance next year," Mr. Smith said about the banquet. "I bet we won't sell 50 tickets."
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Only ten thousand deer in the entire state?
There are likely more deer than that in Oneida County.
The NYTimes once again reveals its ignorance of reality beyond the Hudson.
Mad Deer instead of mad cow..
Now the question is, just what was he feeding these deer??
Prions may well be the next genetic stumbling stone in evolution.
I did a double take on that too.
The total deer take in the 2003 season was slightly more than 253,000, and includes more than 107,000 bucks and nearly 146,000 antlerless deer.
That is a rather peculiarly precise number. They must have very exact animal censuses in those parts. What happens if they shoot 421?
Are NYT reporters getting paid by the word these days?
PETA would shoot them all rather than have one fall into captivity.
"PETA would shoot them all"
The townsfolk that is...
Dang! I love venison. I thought it was transmitted by feeding livestock ground-up remains of infected breeds.
"Food and contact" is a pisser. What's the theory? A prion found in the brain (which I always thought was self-contained area protected by the blood-brain barrier) somehow gets into the saliva (or other excretions) and is transmitted onto the free-range grazing animal's feed?
Clearly, they will have to put three back!
I saw that 10,000 dear stupidity too!
Heck, even at 5-10 per sq mile, which is not at all an outlandish estimate, you're talkin somewhere in the neighborhood of a quarter of a million animals.
They say you have to eat thousands of burgers to get CJD...the human form of mad cow disease.
Eating one or two venison steaks? I'd say the chances of any human being infected is less than miniscule.
If deer have been spotted in Pelham Bay Park in THE BRONX, you can bet that there are more than 10,000 deer in New York State.
I tried cervid spongiform encephalopathy at PubMed. The following article was one of nine that came up. Cervid means elk or deer. You can get a lot more articles clicking on "Related Articles". A lot more basic science on prions needs to be done.
I think the problem really is a over-population of deer...
there should be very generous limits to cull the herd, starting today.....
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