The owners of a Durand, Wis., meat locker are taking a stand against what they view as misleading hype about chronic wasting disease — even if it goes against the advice hunters get from state agencies.
Maloney’s Baloney posted on its Facebook page recently that the shop “will NOT process your whole deer if you choose to or are FORCED by the DNR to test your deer for CWD.”
Dawn Endle, who has co-owned the processor for 21 years with her husband, Jeff, said they don’t believe the neurological disease is harming Wisconsin’s deer herd or that it has the potential to harm humans who consume venison from an infected animal.
“There’s no reason to do this hysteria thing and scare people away from eating the healthiest meat in the world,” Dawn Endle said.
That opinion runs counter to the advice espoused by health officials, even though there has never been a documented case of a human contracting CWD.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises people not to eat meat from an animal that tests positive, and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services recommends that venison from deer killed in CWD-affected areas not be consumed or distributed to others until test results are known to be negative.
“I’m not one to throw scare tactics around, but I’m also not one who’s going to feed that stuff to my grandkids either,” said Dave Zielke, chairman of the Chippewa Valley Chronic Wasting Disease Advisory Council. “There’s always the first time. These things have a way of mutating.”
CWD is caused by abnormal proteins called prions, which cause brain degeneration in infected animals and lead to extreme weight loss, abnormal behavior and loss of bodily functions. CWD is considered part of the family of prion diseases, which include Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease in people.
Endle, however, said she believes all of the taxpayer money being spent on CWD testing and research is a waste because it doesn’t matter how widespread the disease is if it doesn’t threaten humans or appear to be killing wild deer.
“We are not scared of CWD whatsoever,” she said. “We are sick of bureaucrats scaring people and ruining a great Wisconsin tradition.”
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Kris Johansen, natural resources program manager for the DNR’s west-central district, said simply that a private business has the right to make its own choices and that the agency generally received good cooperation over the weekend from hunters who showed up at voluntary testing stations across the region. No official statistics were available Monday about the number of samples collected so far during the nine-day gun deer season that began Saturday and runs through Sunday.
The DNR has been strongly encouraging hunters who kill deer in the area to submit a sample for free CWD testing. The agency indicates that the health of the deer herd relies on cooperation from hunters, as managing CWD begins with knowing where the disease exists and that knowledge is dependent on obtaining a robust sample size.
CWD, a fatal disease of deer, elk and moose, was first identified in southeastern Wisconsin in 2002 and has been spreading ever since. The disease has been detected in five wild deer in Eau Claire County since fall 2017, including a mature buck killed in October, and the DNR just announced Friday the first positive test in Dunn County, making it the state’s 27th county with CWD confirmed in wild deer.
Asked if the policy could cost her shop business by turning away people who want to take part in the voluntary testing, Endle responded, “We don’t care about the money. Somebody has got to stand up to this baloney.”
So far this season, she said, no hunters have walked away after learning of the Maloney’s Baloney policy. Endle stressed that the shop processes deer bonelessly by hand and doesn’t give customers back meat including any brain, spine or gland tissue — the body parts where CWD has been found.
For people who choose to have their deer tested, the shop will process the venison trimmings into sausage after hunters receive the test results, even if the results are positive, Endle said. The purpose of that policy is to avoid having hunters nervous about a positive test abandon their deer at the meat locker, forcing the shop to eat the cost of processing and disposal.
Zielke said that approach goes against what he considers common sense in terms of wanting the best meat quality and what’s best for the state’s deer herd in the long run.
“An attitude like that does more harm than good,” Zielke said, adding, “It may already be too late to stop CWD, but we may be able to limit its spread.”
Mark Noll, chairman of the Buffalo County CWD Advisory Council and a member of the six-county Chippewa Valley council that advises the DNR on policies related to the disease, said many people are operating in the shadows to undermine efforts to raise awareness about CWD and promote herd management steps to control the spread of the disease.
“It’s really frustrating,” Noll said, suggesting many hunting-related business owners downplay the impact of CWD to protect short-term profits.