Wear latex gloves when field-dressing.
Avoid cutting through bones or the spinal column.
Do not use household knives or utensils.
Never eat a deer's brain, eyeballs, spinal cord, spleen or lymph nodes.
That's the advice hunting officials have been giving hunters since the 2002 US outbreak of chronic wasting disease (CWD).
CWD is a mad cow like disorder afflicting deer and elk but not believed to spread to humans.
But after two articles in Science this year, they might want to add "get your affairs in order." Because that's how risky venison will probably look to some this deer season.
While hunting states like Colorado1 and Wisconsin2 were curtailing their original CWD eradication programs and conceding defeat, people weren't afraid to eat or butcher deer anymore. Food pantries were accepting venison again--recipients get a warning flier--and presumably not asking why the meat was okay for the poor and not the donor.
Then an article in the January 26 issue of Science 3 reported that prions, the misfolded proteins that spread CWD, were not just found in a deer's brain, spine and lymph nodes but in the muscle and flesh that people eat.
Before Departments of Natural Resources (DNRs) had time to digest the news, pun intended, another article appeared in the October 6 Science 4 about CWD transmission which reported that prions were found in the saliva and blood of CWD infected deer and even casual contact could put people at risk.
In Fort Collins, CO, where some of the research was conducted, people were even worried about the safety of their drinking water which was drawn from a raw water treatment plant near the CWD infected animals' pens. 5
Other reports speculated that mosquitos could carry the disease.
Revived CWD fears put DNRs in a Catch-22. Hunters, for the most part, won't buy licenses to shoot does--Wisconsin's eradication program required hunters to shoot does before they could shoot a buck--or shoot deer unsafe to eat. But hunting licenses are what fund deer management.
(Hunters buying licenses that pay the salaries of state wildlife officials "who then create hunting opportunities so they can sell hunters licenses," is the actual definition of most DNRs writes critic Stuart Chaifetz in the Asbury Park Press.6)
They also put increased focus on game farms which breed animals for canned hunting experiences and sell powdered antlers to Asian markets. 7
"Don't call them hunters" writes Port HuronTimes Herald reporter Mike Eckert after viewing videotape from a "high fence" game farm. "The enclosure wasn't bigger than my back yard. Sick and dying deer were propped in front of killers who paid thousands of dollars to shoot them. For customers who were really slow to aim and shoot, deer were drugged." 8
Game farms are thought to promote CWD through their concentration of animals, unknown feed sources, animal trading to produce trophy specimens and escaped animals. Some charge the farms with causing the epidemic.