JEFFERSON CITY - If you get a deer this fall, enjoy the meat -- but Missouri's Conservation Department wants the lymph nodes.
The purpose is to find out if the buck you brought down had Chronic Wasting Disease or CWD.
The department is using a new test to determine if any of the shot deer had the disease, which has spread through other states, but not Missouri.
The new testing method requires only gathering lymph nodes from deer that hunters bring in. The samples are sent to a lab at the University of Wyoming, a state with confirmed CWD cases. Last year, the department collected whole heads of deer to be tested, but no traces of CWD were found.
Jeff Berringer, a resource scientist for the Missouri's Conservation Deparment, said the new approach saves money and time. The cost of research this year is only 40 percent of last years cost, and should require 300 less hours of labor. Altogether, expenses will be cut by more than $75,000.
CWD is a prion disease caused by abnormal proteins causing holes in the brain. A similar prion disease is Mad Cow Disease, which led to a global boycott on British beef. However, CWD has not been shown to be a threat to humans or to livestock.
Still, Beringer said that the testing is worth the cost of safety.
"It's like insurance. If you put some effort into it, and early, it might pay off," Beringer said. "It's the cost of peace of mind."
This year, Missouri also received a federal grant of $71,000 to offset the cost of testing, which Beringer said he hoped would cover the total salary and research costs. If he's right, the department will not have to tap into funds it receives from Missouri's sales tax and hunting permits to make up any difference left after the grant.
Wildlife biologist for the department Lonnie Hansen said that Missouri's hunters seem to have a good understanding of the disease and are not too worried by it. He speculated that even if Missouri found cases of CWD in its deer, the state would see little decline in hunters.
Larry Yamnitz, supervisor of the Protection Division of the Conservation Department, said that hunting season provides a great boost to Missouri's economy every year, to the tune of $800 million.
The Conservation Department plans to collect the lymph nodes of 200 deer from thirty counties in Missouri. This makes up only a minute number of the deer harvest, since 110,995 deer were killed during the opening weekend of 2003's deer season.
Hunters woke up before the sun on November 15 to take positions in Missouri woodlands for opening day of deer hunting's firearm season, but the sun did not shine as brightly for many hunters around the state. Thunderstorms in the south and dense fog in the north contributed to a 13% drop in opening weekend deer harvesting.