Deer farming provision surfaces again in final negotiations on farm bill

Image credit: Flickr via LSmith2010
Image credit: Flickr via LSmith2010

Image credit: Flickr via LSmith2010

RALEIGH — Before the state House passed Senate Bill 513, the 2015 farm bill, the debate focused almost exclusively on a provision that would move the regulation of deer farming from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and allow farmed deer to be transported within the state. The conference report for the bill passed 69-44 and it will now go to Gov. Pat McCrory.

Some House members decried the process, during which the provision was inserted, then removed, then inserted again in the conference report. Provisions often appear in conference reports in the waning days of session as final negotiations between the chambers necessitates horse trading.

“We’ve already said no to this transfer of this responsibility from Wildlife to Agriculture,” said Rep. Larry Pittman (R-Concord). “And now here it comes back, [the Senate is] trying to cram it down our throats again.”

But others said the give-and-take is to be expected.

“That’s inevitable at this time of the session, where things come back from them to us, and things come from us to them,” said Rep. Chris Whitmire (R-Rosman). “It’s the art of the feasible. We prevailed in multiple items that we changed.”

The House voted to cut off debate on the bill by a vote of 67-45. Rep. Elmer Floyd (D) said “we have had a very lengthy discussion.” The conference report was then approved.

Supporters of the move for deer regulation say that it makes more sense to have a livestock program in the same department as other livestock regulation. Supporters and opponents of the move agree that the provision would promote deer farming while raising the risk of spreading disease from captive to native deer populations.

The bill includes a provision that precludes importing deer and elk until a test for Chronic Wasting Disease, or CWD, that can be used on live animals becomes available. Currently only dead animals can be tested for CWD, a disease that is a threat to captive and wild deer populations and has not yet been found in North Carolina animals.

But some wildlife enthusiasts say that it is unrealistic to expect deer farmers to check every deer for the disease, and that any level of elevated risk for native deer is too much. Nut North Carolina’s deer farming community sees the move as a way to encourage deer farming and expand it from the few farms currently growing deer in North Carolina. As of this summer, North Carolina had just 37 deer farms, according the Wildlife Resources Commission.

Both the agriculture department and the Wildlife Resources Commission have stressed their current and future commitment to cooperation on the issue, saying they will regulate however the General Assembly wishes.