NADeFA Assists Research on Chronic Wasting Disease in Iowa

CANTON, Ohio — Leading the cervid industry for more than 30 years, the North American Deer Farmers Association (NADeFA) assisted recent efforts by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expand scientific research on Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) that could lead to a new disease prevention strategy.

During a recent depopulation of a CWD-infected herd of whitetail deer in Iowa, researchers from Kansas State University (KSU), who were sponsored by NADeFA, and the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Wildlife Research Center collected a variety of samples, including blood, feces, nasal swabs, and tissue biopsies from the live deer prior to euthanasia. The ‘live’ samples will provide critical data needed to develop an all-new ‘live’ testing protocol for CWD.

“The herd depopulation in Iowa gave researchers a rare opportunity to collect significant live data, and we’re very proud to have worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the private herd owner in Iowa to conduct the research necessary to successfully combat CWD and save the lives of thousands of deer,” says Shawn Schafer, executive director for the North American Deer Farmers Association.

Current management practices require the destruction of entire deer herds when a single animal tests positive for CWD, however, most of the animals destroyed are often found to be perfectly healthy afterwards. The KSU research, sponsored by NADeFA and Cervid Livestock Foundation, is developing three testing methods — nasal swab, rectal biopsy and blood samples — for the early detection of CWD and to prevent the excessive euthanasia of thousands of animals.

“Without the help and cooperation of the land owner and NADeFA, these opportunities would not have been available,” said Dr. Nicholas Haley, who is part of the KSU research team. “The samples will be evaluated using cutting-edge approaches to detect very low levels of the prion agent that causes CWD in an effort to identify which sample and testing strategy is the most useful for diagnosis. The development of a live-animal test may eventually allow identification of CWD-infected animals under quarantine without the need for large-scale culling of animals.”

Chronic wasting disease, a fatal brain disease that affects deer, elk and moose, is similar to other prion diseases including bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or mad cow disease) and human Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). Dr. Haley explains that the diagnosis of CWD, as well as BSE and CJD, currently requires samples collected after death or ‘post-mortem,’ including brain and lymph node tissues. Researchers hope that through the combined efforts of state and federal regulatory agencies, and deer and elk farmers, progress can be made on the development of an ‘antemortem’ or live animal test. Such a live test could be useful for diagnosis of human prion diseases and potentially other diseases including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

“The samples we’ve collected will also be made available to researchers at various other institutions, such as Colorado State University and the National Institutes of Health at Rocky Mountain Laboratories, which are actively pursuing an antemortem test for a variety of prion and other neurological diseases,” added Dr. Haley.

The North American Deer Farmers Association was founded in 1983 and is dedicated to the promotion of deer farming and ranching as an agricultural pursuit and serves its members through its educational programs and publications and by providing leadership in setting and maintaining quality standards. NADeFA represents the deer farming industry at all levels of government, and works closely with livestock producers and other organizations to promote ethical standards of conduct and husbandry in deer farming and to actively market standards for deer and deer products. NADeFA representatives are also available to media for expert testimony and information about deer farming and animal health issues, such as Chronic Wasting Disease, EHD and other topics.

For more information about NADeFA and membership, call 330.454.3944 or visit

Since 1983, the North American Deer Farmers Association (NADeFA) has worked to establish and promote deer farming as an agricultural pursuit and to facilitate education on breeding, handling and deer farm management. For more information on the North American Deer Farmers Association, call 330.454.3944 or visit