Meat packer worried about CWD

Mountain Meat and Sausage will not accept untested wild game

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Due to the recent discovery of chronic wasting disease south of Hayden, one local meat packer said he will not accept wild game unless it has been tested for the disease and been proven to be CWD free.

"If we take in animals with chronic wasting disease, then the prion (the microbe that causes the disease) is in the plant," said Gary Baysinger, owner of Mountain Meat and Sausage. "It takes 2,500 degrees to kill the prion so in essence we would have to burn the building down. Every meat packer will have to decide if they want to risk bringing in chronic wasting disease and contaminating their facility. I'm not going to take animals in that are not tested. We want to know that they are CWD free."

Baysinger said chronic wasting disease is here and it must be addressed.

"Chronic wasting disease I believe is here to stay," Baysinger said. "It presents itself as a big problem for the community."

While the economy in Northwest Colorado could be impacted significantly if hunters choose not to come to the area to hunt, meat packers are especially concerned.

"We're going to see out-of-state hunters come in, kill an animal and not want the meat and we're going to have to roll with the punches," he said.

The CWD scare should be a wake-up call for all area businesses, Baysinger said.

"Northwest Colorado for years has been dependent upon hunting business," he said. "Maybe it's time Moffat County starts looking to other things to keep the economy stable."

Baysinger said he has.

"We are aggressively pursuing the sale of sausages," he said. "We're trying to get where we're not so hunting dependent. There's other ways to make money."

Dave Tafoya, owner of Custom Quality Meat Inc., said his business has not yet made any plans on how it will deal with the situation come hunting season.

"Basically we're just on hold," Tafoya said. "This could be huge and it could be nothing."

There are still too many unknowns surrounding the disease, he said.

"They need to find out exactly what it is," he said. "Basically whatever the state comes up with, we will have to follow."

Tafoya said he was not sure if the state would put new requirements on packers, but he did think the county needed a testing facility.

"Right now there could be all kinds of measures," he said. "Having a lab in the area would probably help some."

Tafoya said he did not want to predict what type of an effect the CWD discovery might have on his business next fall.

"It could be huge and it could be nothing," he said. "I'm major concerned. Every business in Northwest Colorado is concerned."

Dan Martin, owner of Lay Valley Bison Ranch, which processes buffalo, said although his business does not include elk and deer processing, he is still concerned about the disease.

The disease has never been detected in buffalo, but Martin said he is concerned because so little is known about the disease.

"I've got my fingers crossed they don't get in my herd and infect my buffalo," he said. "I'm terribly concerned about animals running around that might have the disease. I just saw 30 elk jump the fence and move to someone else's herd today. The disease can move fast that way."

Martin said more the Division of Wildlife should have taken more aggressive action when the disease was first discovered on the Eastern Slope.

"It's been in the state for more than 10 years," he said. "They should have gotten it years ago but now it's too little, too late. If they would have done their job 10 years ago it wouldn't be in our area now."

Moffat County Sheriff Buddy Grinstead, who encouraged a letter-writing campaign to the DOW by residents to get a testing facility in Craig, said the announcement by Mountain Meat and Sausage to only process tested meat demonstrates the importance of having testing in the area.

"It further signifies that we do need that lab here locally," he said. "These are concerns that affect several different areas of business in Moffat County. The state needs to step in so we can get these animals tested."

On Monday, Gov. Bill Owens encouraged a recently created CWD Task Force to recommend strategies for containing the spread of the disease, identify the best methods for protecting communities, landowners and businesses affected by CWD and develop a public education campaign about the disease.

State Agriculture Commissioner Don Ament, who is a task force member, said businesses affected by the disease would be considered in continuing efforts to eradicate the disease.

"We're working closely with agencies in the state and federal governments to combat this serious disease," he said. "By ensuring the disease doesn't spread, we will protect the industries and people who are seeing their livelihood threatened."

Baysinger said he and other businesses would benefit from having a testing facility in Northwest Colorado.

"We need a lab here in Craig," Baysinger said. "I feel it's necessary to assure hunters and business owners that the prion is not being brought into the facility. It's very risky to take in meat that has not been tested. If a packer takes in untested meat, he's playing with fire."

A total of five deer have tested positive this month for chronic wasting disease near the Motherwell Elk Ranch in southwestern Routt County.

DOW officials began an effort to eradicate the disease by killing all deer and elk within a five-mile radius of the ranch.

The recent discovery is the first time the disease has been detected on the Western Slope.

CWD is a neurological disorder that leads to death in deer and elk. It has not yet been proven to infect humans or jump to other species, but it is a relative of mad cow disease and scrapie, which infects sheep.

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