Norway to cull 2,000 reindeer

Researchers and officials disagree on whether the measure is prudent or panicky

Photo: Pixabay
Some 2,000 reindeer are slated for culling to stem the spread of chronic wasting disease.

The Local / Ministry of Agriculture & Food

The Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food recently announced that it would cull 2,000 reindeer in the Nordfjella region to control the spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD), but not everyone agrees that this step is necessary.

Ketil Skogen, a senior researcher at the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA), told broadcaster NRK as much. “It seems like a sign of panic to take a step like this. It gives the impression that the authorities have an extreme need for control in many ways. The animals will end up not being animals because they are controlled so tightly,” he said.

The Norwegian Food Safety Authority (Mattilsynet) says it has taken criticism of its decision into account but must follow the recommendations of the food safety committee report used as the basis for the decision to kill the animals.

“We are not certain we will be successful. And we know some people think we are acting too hastily and invasively. We want healthy reindeer herds in the future,” veterinarian Julie Enebo Grimstad of Mattilsynet told NRK.

Chronic wasting disease, a cousin of mad cow disease and already present in North America, causes deer brains to turn spongy, leading to weight loss and death. It is contagious among deer and reindeer but not known to pass from animals to humans.

The disease was detected for the first time in Europe last year in Norway, with three known cases of reindeer infected in a single herd and two other cases among moose—though the latter cases were considered to be of less concern since moose do not live in herds.

To prevent the spread of the disease, the Norwegian Food Safety Authority—which oversees animal health issues—called for the slaughter of the affected herd, which has between 2,000 and 2,200 wild reindeer living in the southwestern mountainous region of Nordfjella.

“In an environment in which carnivores such as wolves, bears, and wolverine live, [weakened] animals such as these would be hunted early,” Skogen told NRK.

The researcher said that the cause of the spread of the disease was still unknown. It may be caught from sheep with scratch-related sickness, from other types of deer, or from a mutation in the brains of the reindeer themselves, he said.

A second researcher at NINA, who was part of the committee that recommended the cull, confirmed that the cause of the disease spread was unknown.

“We would like to know more about infection pathways. But the knowledge we have is enough to tell us that we have to act fast and take this seriously,” Olav Strand told NRK.

Mattilsynet says that waiting longer to decide the fate of the animals is not an option. “Even though this is dramatic, it is necessary,” Grimstad said.

The culling isn’t the only step Norway is taking to prevent the spread of CWD. Researchers will collect around 20,000 samples from various deer species in 2017 to map the disease’s extent and hope other countries will do the same.

Norway’s Agriculture and Food Minister Jon Georg Dale is calling on the EU Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis to ensure that countries bordering Norway now carry out a comprehensive deer animal mapping of their own.

“Chronic wasting disease is contagious among animals, and it will be useless for Norway alone to run such a comprehensive mapping program,” says Dale.

Dale informed Andriukaitis during the Nordic Council of Ministers in Ålesund on June 28 that Sweden and Finland must soon respond with a similar plan. This is particularly important for Sweden, as animals pass freely back and forth across the border between countries.

Andriukaitis acknowledged Norway’s efforts to stop spreading this disease. The EU has decided that neighboring countries Sweden and Finland will map occurrences of CWD beginning in 2018, and further discussion will focus on whether that mapping can begin sooner.

“If we are to eliminate this contagious disease, countries have to do their utmost to succeed. Here the EU Commission has a major responsibility to prompt member states to act,” says Dale.

This article was originally published on The Local.

It also appeared in the July 14, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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