Considerations for meat processors accepting venison to prevent spreading chronic wasting disease

Protocol for meat processors to follow when accepting venison this hunting season.

Deer standing in field

Chronic wasting disease is a disorder of the neurological system that affects cervids. Cervids are members of the deer family, such as deer, elk, and moose. Chronic wasting disease is caused by a prion, or misfolded protein. Cervids that contract chronic wasting disease may take months or even years before they show symptoms of having the disease. Symptoms can include extreme weight loss, lack of coordination, drooping head and ears, excessive drooling, excessive drinking and excessive urination. Chronic wasting disease is always fatal to infected cervids.

Cervids contract chronic wasting disease through direct contact with an infected animal or through indirect exposure via infected soil or plants. Research from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston has shown prions have been able to bind to the roots and leaves of wheat grass plants when incubated with contaminated material, even when incubated in highly diluted amounts. They also found that plants grown in infected soil can transport the deadly prions. Hamsters that were fed the contaminated plants contracted chronic wasting disease in the research project.

Chronic wasting disease is not known to affect humans, although the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) both recommend not eating infected meat from an infected cervid. Prions are not easily killed by traditional strategies such as heat.

When accepting and handling deer, especially from Michigan’s chronic wasting disease core area or management zones, wear rubber or latex gloves. Ask the following questions on incoming deer:

  • Where was this deer/venison harvested?
  • Was the deer taken to a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) check station?
  • Was the deer tested for chronic wasting disease? (It should have a yellow tag/number attached to it.)

Consider rejecting any carcass that has a pending chronic wasting disease test until the outcome is known. If you choose to accept venison that has a pending chronic wasting disease test, isolate the carcass or meat products until a negative test result is obtained. Isolate by covering the carcass with plastic bags and creating space between other carcasses. This separation is preferably done on a separate rail but a separate pallet in the cooler could be used. It is also recommended to clearly identify segregated carcasses and hold from processing pending test results.

Chronic wasting disease testing is recommended, but not required. In 2020, testing is requested for deer harvested in the southern half of Jackson and Isabella counties, the western half of Gratiot County and in the Upper Peninsula chronic wasting disease core area (areas of Delta, Dickinson and Menominee counties). If you receive notification that a carcass in your possession has tested positive for chronic wasting disease, contact the DNR Wildlife Disease Laboratory at 517-336-5030 for assistance with removing the carcass. Results from chronic wasting disease testing are available from the Michigan DNR Lab at as soon as possible, but may take up to 30 days of sample submission in peak season.

Movement restrictions apply to animals harvested in Montcalm County; Otisco, Orleans, Ronald and North Plains Townships in Ionia County; and Nelson, Spencer, Courtland, Oakfield, Grattan and Cannon Townships in Kent County, unless:

  • It is deboned meat, quarters or other parts of a cervid that do not have any part of the spinal column or head attached, antlers, antlers attached to a skull cap cleaned of all brain and muscle tissue, hides, upper canine teeth, or a finished taxidermist mount.

Or…

  • The deer carcass is taken directly to a registered processor.
  • The intact deer head detached from the carcass is taken directly to a licensed taxidermist.

If you are a processor outside of the chronic wasting disease core area or management zone and suspect the deer was taken out of areas but is not accompanied by a portion of a DNR issued chronic wasting disease survey tag for that animal, refuse to accept the deer and require it go to a DNR checkpoint within 24 hours of harvest prior to accepting it. It is OK to accept deboned meat, quarters or other parts of a cervid that do not have any part of the spinal column or head attached, antlers, antlers attached to a skull cap cleaned of all brain and muscle tissue, hides, upper canine teeth, or a finished taxidermist mount.

If you are processing deer from the chronic wasting disease core area or management zone, the waste, inedible materials, spinal cord, brain tissue and other material should be handled in a specific manner. Waste created from the processing of the carcass should be bagged and sent directly to a landfill. Do not render, burn, compost or place in the environment parts from deer that potentially have chronic wasting disease as this could contaminate the environment or soil and spread the disease.

Segregate any suspect venison from larger comingled batches of sausages, snack sticks, etc., and do not process until the test results come back negative. Additional processing protocols, including sanitizing knives, equipment and surfaces in a 50% bleach 50% water sanitizing solution for 1 hour, help stop the spread of chronic wasting disease.

Printer-friendly Meat Processor Deer/Venison Intake Recommendations and Meat Processor Deer/Venison Processing Recommendation are available online from Michigan State University Extension. Share this information with your employees.

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