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U.S. Agency Finalizes|Deer Disease Rules

WASHINGTON (CN) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Tuesday, finalized a rule meant to prevent the spread of a disease similar to mad cow disease found in deer and elk.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) affects deer, elk and moose, and is related to bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease. The disease causes weight loss and behavioral changes in the animals, and is always fatal.

The disease has been found in both wild and captive elk and deer in multiple states, and captive animals in Korea.

The market for elk and deer meat has been affected by reports of the disease, and caused Korea to suspended elk and deer imports.

Additionally, Canada no longer allows elk imports from Colorado and Wyoming and requires other imports of moose and deer to come with a certificate stating the animals are free of chronic wasting disease.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service issued the final version of a regulation, Tuesday, establishing a herd certification program for farmed and captive deer, moose and elk to help identify and stop the spread of the disease.

The agency explained, in the final version, that it "decided to allow state and local laws and regulations with respect to CWD to be more restrictive than our regulations for multiple reasons. One of those reasons is that it is more difficult to determine with certainty what restrictions are justified for CWD than for other diseases, given our relative lack of knowledge about CWD."

There is no conclusive information about how the disease can be spread from wild deer, elk and moose to farmed or captive ones, according to the agency.

"Other gaps in the available science about CWD also impair our ability to achieve eradication of CWD, including the lack of certainty regarding the disease status of individual live animals and the lack of knowledge regarding effective cleaning and disinfection measures for premises on which CWD has been found," the agency wrote.

The final regulation makes minor changes to an interim regulation the agency issued in 2006.

Among other things, the rule requires people who capture deer, elk or moose from the wild and then release them to have "a certificate stating that the source population has been determined to be low risk for CWD, based on a CWD surveillance program."

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