JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Senate Agriculture, Food Production, and Outdoor Resources Committee heard testimony on a bill transferring oversight of captive cervids to the Department of Agriculture. Sen. Brian Munzlinger, who chairs the committee, presented SB 123, promoting it as a way for the state’s deer farms to more easily sell their products.
“What this bill does is allow one of our agricultural industries here in Missouri to actually sell the meat that they raise,” he said in a short testimony centered on offering the potential economic benefits.
Munzlinger said the state imports anywhere between 500 to 1000 tons of venison each year, mostly from New Zealand. Of the roughly 250 farms raising captive cervids in Missouri, he argued freeing up the market at home could provide Missouri with millions in economic benefits.
Conservationists and environmentalists, however, opposed the bill. Jerry Presley, a former director of the Missouri Department of Conservation, said the bill could infringe on the constitutional regulatory authority given to the department, a consternation echoed by Carolyn Amparan of the Missouri chapter of the Sierra Club and Brandon Butler of the Conservation Federation of Missouri.
“We believe the MDC, the agency tasked with regulating the state’s wildlife resources, must maintain control of all deer species, wild and captive, to protect all deer in our state,” Butler said.
Steve Jones, the conservation editor for Outdoor Guide magazine, presented a much more existential fear regarding the bill. Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), a prion disease like Mad Cow Disease, has affected deer herds in some Western and Midwestern states, including Missouri. While Missouri’s rates of CWD are far below some of the nearby states like Wisconsin and Illinois, it still worries many conservationists because of its incurability and 100 percent fatality rate. A University of Wyoming study found 10 percent annual declines in the state’s white-tailed deer population because of CWD, which could lead to “localized extinctions.”
Jones fears the disease may spread to humans, though there are no known instances of CWD transmission from deer or elk to humans. He also believes deer farms could propagate the disease.
“Prion disease research is still in its infancy,” he said. “Progress is rapid but there is a long way to go before the science would be solid enough to justify public policy that risks expanding human exposure to CWD prions.”
Jacques deMoss, the president of the Missouri Deer Association, countered the Department of Conservation had only attempted to put deer farms and hunting lodges out of business via lawsuits and rule changes. While he reiterated the possible economic benefits of opening the state’s deer market up, he also said deer farmers had to test every deer or elk harvested for multiple diseases, including CWD. The purview for those tests even comes from the Department of Agriculture.
“White-tail breeders and hunting ranch operators are small business owners fighting to protect their industry,” deMoss said, speaking in favor of the bill. “This is not about CWD; it’s about private property rights.”
Mike Deering of the Missouri Cattleman’s Association also testified to support the bill, saying he did so to support private property rights.