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Canada.com reports that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has raised concerns over elk antler velvet, a common ingredient used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and many supplement products.  CFIA suspects powdered antler velvet could contain infectious prions associated with chronic wasting disease if harvested from infected animals.

Chronic wasting disease, or CWD, is a fatal disease that spreads among species in the deer family and is similar to bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE, commonly referred to as mad cow disease.

The group sounding the alarm, Calgary-based Alliance for Public Wildlife, points to a collaborative study by CFIA, the University of Kentucky Medical Center, Colorado State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture just published in the Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal.  To read the study, click here.

Meanwhile, the CFIA has posted a cautious Q&A about CWD on its website here.  One question asks is “powdered antler velvet from animals that have been exposed to CWD safe for human consumption?”

According to Health Canada there are no studies available on the safety of tissues from deer and elk with CWD. In studies using mice experimentally infected with scrapie, another TSE, muscle and skin tissues were not found to be infectious at any detectable level. Similarly it is recognized that BSE is not transmitted by meat and skin.

However, we have to be very cautious in using these results to predict the safety of products from infected or exposed elk, since test results from one species do not necessarily apply to another. Velvet and other products or by-products from elk or deer known to be infected with CWD are not allowed to enter the human or animal food chain. Velvet is used as a medicinal alternative.

No indication yet on whether the CFIA’s concern will spill over into the US and become an issue for FDA or USDA.


Joel B. Rothman represents clients in intellectual property infringement litigation involving patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, defamation, trade libel, unfair competition, unfair and deceptive trade practices, and commercial matters. Joel’s litigation practice also includes significant focus on electronic discovery issues such as e-discovery management and motion practice relating to e-discovery.