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Food bank exercises caution

Some hunters and other people no doubt disagree with the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank’s decision not to accept venison donations this year.

They have a right to that opinion.

But “with the jury still out” over whether eating meat of deer infected with chronic wasting disease, or CWD, poses risks to humans, the food bank was right in adopting a cautious stance over one it might regret later.

Hunters or families, confident that eating venison from infected deer poses no health dangers, may choose to do so, without any implications for anyone else. However, food banks and other entities that serve many people should reject undermining their good will and good intentions by making available food about which safety concerns have not been resolved — and for which they could be subject to criticism, or worse, later.

A Feb. 4 Mirror article reported that North American governments were becoming increasingly concerned about the potential for CWD to infect humans, even though “there has not been a case of a human infection.”

That article noted that in 2018, a branch of Health Canada — the Bureau of Microbial Hazards — had issued a risk advisory opinion, recommending that “the most prudent approach is to consider that CWD has the potential to infect humans.”

The article went on to say that the recommendation — or warning — had followed a series of tests performed by Canadian researchers on animals, including human-like macaque monkeys, which became infected with the disease.

Beyond that, officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, referencing the tests, explained that macaques contracted CWD when they were fed muscle or brain tissue from infected deer and elk.

Some of the meat came from deer infected with the disease, but appearing to be healthy — not yet showing CWD symptoms, which include listlessness, drastic weight loss and stumbling.

Meanwhile, a Mirror article Sunday quoted Joe Arthur, food bank executive director, who said that, despite the decision regarding venison, the food bank is well stocked with meat as a result of a U.S. Department of Agriculture program.

He said the food bank remained grateful regarding the long-term relationship it has had with processors and butchers who made venison donations possible in past years, but he said expansion of the disease-management areas for CWD this year prompted additional concerns over venison safety.

He said the food bank, which is a hub for distributing food products to more than 1,000 local agencies in 27 central Pennsylvania counties, finally concluded that “the risk was too high to accept venison donations this year.”

Last year’s 20,000 pounds of venison donations were coordinated through the Hunters Sharing the Harvest program. It is sad that CWD is undermining the good that the program seeks to accomplish on behalf of people in need.

According to Arthur, this year’s decision isn’t necessarily permanent; the food bank intends to re-evaluate the situation next year.

It won’t be the same this year for the many people looking forward to venison like they enjoyed from the food bank in the past, but what’s more important is preventing human exposure to CWD — and possibly worse.

The food bank’s decision should be praised, not denounced.

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