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From: TSS ()
Subject: Town's Venison Banquet Puts a State on Alert
Date: April 9, 2005 at 6:29 pm PST

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Town's Venison Banquet Puts a State on Alert
Date: Sat, 9 Apr 2005 20:36:18 -0500
From: "Terry S. Singeltary Sr."
Reply-To: Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy

##################### Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy #####################

Town's Venison Banquet Puts a State on Alert


Published: April 10, 2005

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

"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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