May 17, 2019
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) and Government Response
Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a degenerative
neurological disorder that affects cervids, including
multiple species of deer, elk, and moose. Infected cervids
may exhibit many symptoms including weight loss or
wasting, poor balance, excessive salivation, difficulty
swallowing, and others. CWD has a 100% mortality rate.
The spread of CWD has impacted both wild and captive
animals, including farm-raised cervids (e.g., for venison
production), across the United States. CWD has caused
economic losses for U.S. farm-raised cervid operations and
may affect wild cervids. As a result, Congress is taking an
active interest in the incidence and management of CWD.
CWD was first discovered in 1967 in Colorado, and since
that time, it has spread across the United States. It may be
transmitted by direct animal-to-animal contact or indirectly
when animals come in contact with infected substances,
such as soil, dust, or forage. According to the U.S.
Geological Survey (USGS), CWD has spread to 26 U.S.
states (as of May 2019; Figure 1) and to Canada, Finland,
Norway, Sweden, and South Korea.
CWD is a type of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy
(TSE) that affects cervids. TSEs, also known as prion
diseases, are a group of degenerative neurological disorders
that result in a spongy appearance of the infected brain.
TSEs are believed to be caused by abnormally folded prion
proteins. Prion proteins are naturally occurring but, when
folded incorrectly, can become both infectious and deadly.
Other TSEs include scrapie, which afflicts sheep and goats,
and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, also known
as mad cow disease), which affects cattle. TSEs in humans
include Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
After infection by CWD, cervids may not exhibit symptoms
for an extended period following exposure. This incubation
period can last for a year or longer. No vaccine or treatment
exists for CWD. Two diagnostic post-mortem testing
techniques exist for identifying CWD in cervids.
In some experimental studies, CWD has been shown to
infect mice, squirrels, monkeys, and potentially macaques.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC) in the Department of Health and Human
Services (HHS), there is no “strong evidence,” to date, of
CWD infecting humans. It is unknown if humans may
become infected by CWD prions, but some research
suggests that CWD may possibly pose a risk to humans. As
a precaution, the CDC and other public health officials
advise caution in handling/processing animals that may be
infected and warn against eating meat from an infected
cervid. The CDC monitors current research on the potential
for CWD transmission to humans and provides
recommendations for hunters to reduce their risk of
CWD Management Activities
CWD management activities are shared by several federal
and state departments and agencies. The primary federal
agencies include the Animal and Plant Health Inspection
Service (APHIS) within the U.S. Department of Agriculture
(USDA) and USGS, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
(FWS), and the National Park Service (NPS) within the
Department of the Interior (DOI). Various state agencies—
such as those overseeing agriculture, fish, or wildlife—
often collaborate with federal agencies. Over 25 states have
control programs for both wild and captive cervids.
An early example of state and federal government
cooperation was the “CWD Task Force” (no longer in
operation). Initiated in 2002 by USDA, DOI, several state
wildlife and agriculture agencies, land grant universities,
Figure 1. Distribution of CWD in North America
Source: CRS, adapted from USGS, National Wildlife Health Center, https://www.usgs.gov/centers/nwhc/science/expanding-distributionchronic-wasting-disease?qt-science_center_objects=0#qt-science_center_objects.
Notes: Map depicts the distribution area of CWD in North America as of May 2019. This map is regularly updated by the USGS. Both Hawaii
and Alaska (not depicted in the figure) do not have cases of CWD.
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) and Government Response
and other organizations, the purpose of the task force was to
establish a network to conduct CWD surveillance, research,
and depopulation/culling efforts. Some notable outcomes of
the task force include the publication of a management
plan—titled “Plan for Assisting States, Federal Agencies,
and Tribes in Managing Chronic Wasting Disease in Wild
and Captive Cervids”—and a USGS-led CWD data
clearinghouse. Today, cooperation continues among state
and federal agriculture and wildlife agencies, producers,
Federal Management Activities
At the federal level, many CWD activities are within the
purview of USDA’s APHIS. One of APHIS’s goals is to
eradicate animal diseases, such as CWD from farmed deer
and elk herds, and to assist states and tribes in managing
diseases in wild animals. APHIS’s legislative authority for
this work derives mainly from the Animal Health Protection
Act (AHPA, 7 U.S.C. §§8301 et seq.).
One APHIS management tool is the CWD Voluntary Herd
Certification Program (HCP), which provides a national
approach to the control of CWD in farm-raised cervids. The
program is a voluntary, cooperative effort among APHIS,
state animal health and wildlife agencies, and farming
operations. As of September 2018, 28 states are
participating in this voluntary program. APHIS coordinates
with state agencies to encourage cervid owners to certify
their herds and comply with the CWD HCP standards to
prevent the introduction and spread of CWD (9 C.F.R. Parts
55 and 81). To be enrolled in CWD HCP, herd owners are
required to install fencing, provide individual animal
identification, and conduct post-mortem testing for all
animals over 12 months that die for any reason.
Several DOI agencies have also been involved in CWD
activities, including USGS, FWS, and NPS. USGS,
primarily through its National Wildlife Health Center,
collaborates with other federal and state agency partners to
address such challenges as the need for new diagnostic
capacities as well as data collection. FWS has addressed
CWD through a number of mechanisms, including through
law enforcement, requiring mandatory testing in certain
areas, and developing CWD plans for individual units in the
National Wildlife Refuge System. NPS has similarly
addressed CWD, including through the NPS Wildlife
Health Branch, research activities, and management and
Animal feed, as well as rendered or animal byproducts, and
wild game meat—including venison—intended for retail
sale fall under the purview of HHS’s Food and Drug
Administration (FDA). The Food Safety and Modernization
Act (P.L. 111-353) provides FDA authority to establish
preventative controls (e.g., food safety plans) for animal
feed intended to be consumed by livestock and other
animals, including farm-raised cervids. In 2016, FDA
issued guidance to the industry prohibiting the use of
materials from deer and elk in any animal feed or feed
ingredients. In addition, FDA inspects and regulates all
non-USDA-regulated meats and meat products, including
wild or captive cervid meat, intended for commercial sale.
State Management Activities
State government management activities include enforcing
APHIS’s CWD regulations for wild/captive cervids,
establishing state-specific CWD regulations, and
conducting CWD testing in wild/captive cervids. In some
states, the department of agriculture has jurisdiction over
captive and wild cervids. In other states, the fish and game
department has this responsibility. In several states, these
two departments share this responsibility. The
Environmental Protection Agency coordinates with states to
develop protocols for the safe disposal of potentially
infected animal carcasses.
In October 2018, the Michigan Department of Natural
Resources released an analysis of CWD regulations in the
United States and Canada. The analysis reports on statespecific responses to managing CWD. For example, many
states prohibit cervid imports from any country, region, or
state in which CWD is found and/or require that the
country, region, or state exporting the cervid be enrolled in
an official CWD monitoring or certification program. Many
states have banned all cervid and cervid product imports.
Recent Congressional Interest
In the 115th Congress, the Agriculture Improvement Act of
2018 (P.L. 115-334, commonly referred to as the 2018 farm
bill) included a provision (Section 7209) to make CWD
research and extension grants a high priority. The 116th
Congress appropriated funds to address CWD in wild and
captive cervids through the Consolidated Appropriations
Act, 2019 (P.L. 116-6). In particular, both APHIS and the
Agricultural Research Service, also in USDA, were
specifically directed to address CWD (H.Rept. 116-9).
Some Members of Congress have also introduced
legislation to continue CWD research, surveillance, and
management. For example, bills introduced in the 116th
Congress related to CWD include the following.
The CWD Transmission in Cervidae Study Act (H.R.
837 and S. 382) would authorize a special study on the
spread of CWD in cervids. The bill directs APHIS to
study CWD in wild, captive, and farm-raised cervid
populations no later than six months after the date on
which funds are made available.
The CWD Disease Management Act (H.R. 1550 and S.
689) would authorize $35 million of appropriations for
state and tribal efforts to manage and control CWD.
The ACCESS Act (H.R. 1326) includes two titles
(Titles X and XI) that incorporate CWD oversight that
are similar to the CWD Transmission in Cervidae Study
Act and CWD Disease Management Act.
The DEER Act (S. 613 and H.R. 1919) would amend
the AHPA to provide support for states and coordinate
response efforts to address CWD through a multiagency
task force. The bill would also award a grant for
research focused on CWD in whitetail deer.
Sahar Angadjivand, Analyst in Agricultural Policy
R. Eliot Crafton, Analyst in Natural Resources Policy
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) and Government Response
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