Recent Updates & Comments to Federal CWD Program Standards
Comments to Federal CWD Program Standards
By Laurie Seale - President of Whitetails of Wisconsin
I have been asked to respond to the federal CWD program standards and the federal CWD rules because of my years of involvement and knowledge of both documents.
Here are the major negative issues associated with the program standards:
- Allows USDA and state agencies to quarantine CWD farms (like the Brakke's) for 5 or more years without indemnification.
- Allows USDA and state agencies to quarantine trace back and trace forward farms for 5 or more years without indemnification.
- The program standards has included wording "suggesting" that states allow CWD exposed animals to move to terminal hunting facilities, but without any ability to force states to allow movement, we all know that the large majority of state agencies are not going to allow any exposed animals to move (Brakke case in Iowa a perfect example).
- USDA has not included any wording in the Program standards for indemnification. This tells me that USDA has no intention of providing indemnification now or in the future leaving the breeders and the states to deal with the disease.
- Program standards state "if any trace back or trace forward animal is no longer available for testing (for example, a trace animal from a known positive herd died and was not tested), the trace back/trace forward herd could be quarantined up to 5 years." This statement alone forces the cervid industry to test at 100% for fear of a trace back or trace forward.
- In several parts of the standards, farms will be forced into herd plans which can require long quarantine periods, double fencing, expensive clean up, maintaining fencing for up to 5 years even after depopulation, require testing of all mortalities regardless of age, future land use restrictions, etc.; all of this without indemnification. HOW CAN THE INDUSTRY BUY INTO THE GOVERNMENT TELLING US WHAT TO DO WITH OUR PRIVATE PROPERTY? If USDA or the states are providing indemnification for our animals with a signed herd plan, then and only then would the government have the right to place restrictions on our private property.
- Program standards includes wording that if a producer does not follow a herd plan they could be held responsible for infecting other cervids.....this wording could open the door for lawsuits against producers if CWD is discovered in wild herds.
There are a number of other serious issues with the program standards, but those listed above are the most intrusive and have the greatest impact on producers.
The major problem I see with the current program standards document is USDA appears to be holding firm in the process and are writing the standards to be more stringent than the actual federal rule. A document more stringent than the federal rules is not acceptable.
Another major problem is the fact that the federal CWD program is an unfunded federal mandate no longer seen as an eradication program but instead a control program aimed at minimizing risk. The program standards, on the other hand, are being written solely as an eradication program. So, if the if USDA has changed their direction of the program from eradication to a control program, why is USDA not writing the program standards as a control program? If there was federal or state funding to run the program and USDA was offering indemnification for CWD infected or exposed herds, I don't believe producers would have a problem with an eradication policy. Again, the program is an unfunded federal mandate and 5 years of quarantine without indemnification is not acceptable. Can any producer afford to be quarantined for any length of time?
We all need to empathize with Tom and Rhonda Brakke and put ourselves in their situation; is the way the Brakke's are being treated by their state government acceptable? Would any of us be satisfied with 5 years of quarantine without indemnification or without movement of exposed animals to a terminal hunting ranch? The Brakke's own both a breeding herd and a hunting ranch, both of which are CWD exposed facilities. The state of Iowa will not allow them to depopulate their animals by hunting them. I think we all agree that this is not acceptable...not only is this not acceptable but this is America and the taking of one's livelihood and property without compensation is against the law.
Legal council has stated that the program standards, as written, will lend a level of credibility to state agencies' actions regarding 5 years quarantine without indemnification. Legal council also stated this would be especially true if a major cervidae group approved of such standards. This legal advice should tell all of us that we cannot accept this document as currently written!
Although the program standards working group have made several suggestions for the improvement of this document, these are ONLY suggestions. Dr. Klein has repeatedly stated she cannot guarantee that these changes will ever be written into the final document because of public comment and we all know what they did to the federal rule after public comment...changes were made to the rule that were detrimental to producers....herein lies the risk to all of us.
This document is designed to put producers out of business without compensation for our animals. The trace backs and trace forwards are designed to shut down interstate movement or at least greatly hinder movement.
We all need to think about the consequences of being involved in a trace back, trace forward or an actual CWD on our premises. There are serious consequences...just ask the Brakke's!
Many of you have heard me say numerous times, if you can't legislate an industry out of business, you regulate them out of business and it is obvious that this is the goal of some of the regulatory agencies. If the federal CWD rule was really written to prevent the spread of CWD, why would USDA not hold wildlife agencies to the same standards?
Below is USDA's position on CWD Program Standards
I would like to go on record as supporting the CWD Program Standards working group, which has been tasked with addressing the concerns of the industry and State Regulators. Those standards have been trimmed from 70 pages in the beginning down to 55 pages. As your representative on that working group I hope you trust that I have yours as well as the whole cervid industries best interest at heart.
While there are still several areas of the Standards I have concerns with, there are many more areas and changes that I feel are beneficial at guiding our State Animal Health Officials as to how they should implement the Federal CWD Herd Certification Program.
Below are my comments to the latest version of the Program Standards for you to review and offer feedback. I have outlined the remaining areas of concern that our working group flagged as issues that still need to be worked on.
Cervid Industry and State Veterinarians on Rewriting
Chronic Wasting Disease Rule
USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
APHIS Stakeholder Registry Announcement
April 1, 2013
During its regularly scheduled conference call with USDA officials, the National Assembly of State Animal Health Officials discussed the progress that has been made by the Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) Program Standards Working Group. Because members of the working group represent varied interests, it has been difficult for the group to reach consensus. Further, Federal dollars to support the CWD program have dramatically decreased, leaving limited options for managing the program.
USDA recognizes that producers have continued concerns about the language in the program standards and the provisions of the CWD interim final rule. Dr. John Clifford, Deputy Administrator, APHIS Veterinary Services, does not support withdrawing the rule or developing a separate industry program; however, he agreed on the conference call to listen to the concerns of stakeholders.
The working group to rewrite the CWD Program Standards has made some huge strides in removing or relaxing language that was overly burdensome and clarifying language that was being misinterpreted. While we have came a long ways in shorting up the document and reaching consensus as a group, below are still some areas that we need to work our way through.
- Number one on my list is the lack of relief in the rule once we attain certification. I would like to see relief for certification built into the Program Standards, but I am receiving pushback from the Federal regulators saying that the Rule language prohibits this not the Program Standards. USDA still must respond to our comment we submitted on the Federal Rule so I am going to continue to push for some type of relief or relaxation upon reaching certified status. Keep in mind that there is not one State CWD program that has any relief built into it as well.
- The decrease in test age from 16 to 12 months of age. This is also in the rule and not the Standards, but is an area that I am concentrating on for future relief for certified herds to be able to drop back to 16 months of age for testing of certified animals. If we fight to throw out these program standards the Rule language will still require 12 months of age. Most State CWD Programs also required testing after 12 months of age.
- Not allowing a reduction of testing for certified herds when they send animals to slaughter. We did clarify that if you sell your animals first and remove them from your inventory that you are no longer required to test them as they are not part of your certified herd. This is another issue that if we were to throw out the Standards the state program would kick in, and all state programs required cervids to be tested at slaughter.
- "Requiring" both obex and lymph nodes to be submitted for CWD testing. We are still working on changing this to read that it is "recommended". We did gain in this area as the original Standards stated that if one of the tissues was not testable then both would not be counted. We also added language that explains that the State Official can make allowances for one tissue only.
- We need more defined protocols for Trace Forwards and Trace Backs, so the State Animal Health Officials will have something to reference when they are dealing with exposed herds and animals that have died and were not tested. Trace Forwards and Trace Backs have always been a part of every epidemiological investigation and always will be. If we scrap these Standards the Epi investigation and quarantines will still take place, but without any type of guidance or standards to use as a baseline. These Standards should give us a vehicle to deliver the most current science and information to all states. The quarantines and traces from Iowa and Pennsylvania last year were implemented by their State programs not the Federal Rule or Standards.
Some of the positive attributes and changes of the Program Standards that I would hate to lose include-
- Correcting the language that the physical inventory every three years does not have to be a "hands on" inventory.
- These revised Standards offer other options for quarantined herds other than depopulation, such as moving under permit to terminal facilities and hunt ranches.
- Exemptions during times of mass losses, such as during EHD outbreaks, to allow only 2 samples to be submitted instead of every animal that dies.
- Specifies that this is a voluntary program. Producers that do not want to sell out of state and terminal facilities such as hunt ranches do not have to be on the program.
- These Standards also clarify that when an animal is sold or moved and no longer on the inventory of your certified herd, it is not required to be CWD tested.
- While I think the Trace forward and back can still use some tweaking, there have been some great changes already such as limiting the trace back to 5 years (in PA they went back 7 years) and these Standards also direct the states to conduct a risk evaluation based on time of exposure and they also direct that your time in the monitoring program should count from the time you sold the animal or the date that it died and not be an automatic 5 years from when the positive animal is found. This would have been a major help in PA and I think could help currently in NY as well.
- The Standard also allows the use of microchips, tattoos, and other tag options.
- The standards have been changed to allow additions to quarantined herds such as hunt ranches and from quarantined herds to slaughter or a quarantined hunt ranch, to allow continuity of business (interstate travel is only allowed for slaughter at this time).
- These Standards also allow the State Official to grant exemptions for missed or poor samples and "removed" the confusing language about testing 2 to make up for 1 missed sample.
- These standards specify that a producer or an accredited vet can take their own samples if they become a certified sample collector.
- The removal of the language that took away certified status for herds that moved into endemic areas.
- The allowance to take exposed animals to slaughter instead of a landfill if they are depopulated.
- The fencing requirements in these Standards specify that 8 foot fencing is adequate and that double fencing is not needed.
- These standards clarify the DNA testing protocol to prove an animal that you may have sold years earlier is the same as the sample being tested.
- Interstate travel and transiting across all states is allowed in the Program Standards and the Rule. We have fought for this for years, why would we want to give this up now. What would happen to commerce if more states shut down travel across their state? This was a change made in the Rule at the request of the industry.
- Another major change in the rule at the request of the industry was extending out the physical inventory from annually to every three years (and now is further clarified that it does "not" have to be a hands on inventory).
- Another major change in the Rule was the removal of the 25 mile parameter as there was no science to back it up and the addition of allowing animals to move from CWD areas if the producer mitigates their risks.
- I like that these Standards reference Taxidermy and hunting as a possible source of spreading CWD.
- Lastly we have added language to the program standards to hold the wildlife agencies to a higher standard than in the past if they want Trans-locate wild cervids. Without these standards the wildlife groups are free to bounce animals all across this nation. Under these program standards they would have to certify the animals came from a source population that has been documented to be of low risk for CWD based on a CWD surveillance program in wild cervids and that program must be approved by the receiving state and APHIS. The certificate should include a summary of the surveillance data on the source population including population size and statistical parameters used to assess prevalence. While I would have liked to see the exact parameter spelled out, this is still a major increase over the free rein they have had up until this point. This is a huge step forward and is something that we can use in the future to build relief into our certification program to test at a statistical parameter based on prevalence in place of 100%. Do we want to scrap these standards and turn the wildlife agencies loose again?
I am sure there are more positives and negatives to these Standards and I will be combing through them before our next call on April 8th. I would ask everyone to please go through them as well and send me any comments you might have.
Click Link below to view CWD Program Standards