PENSACOLA -- The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission passed an immediate ban on the importation of deer from other states and countries on Friday, a move intended to protect Florida deer from a deadly mad cow-like disease.
The commission voted unanimously to prohibit deer farms, hunting preserves and others from importing the animals to stop the spread of chronic wasting disease.
“Our mission is to manage resources for the long-term well-being of Florida’s people. Based on the science, geography and risks associated with this disease, I am comfortable that we need to close our borders,” Commissioner Adrien Bo Rivard said following more than three hours of public comment on the issue Friday morning.
Rivard and other commissioners said it was important to enact an immediate ban because the number of deer imported to the state has spiked since they first raised the issue in June.
“We will be criticized for allowing a de facto grace period. Chronic wasting disease may well have come into our state during that window,” Commissioner Brian Yablonski said before voting to approve the ban.
Unlike mad cow disease, chronic wasting disease has not been shown to transfer to humans who come into contact with contaminated meat. Florida is one of just seven states that have not yet documented cases of the disease, which cannot be treated or prevented.
Groups from the National Rifle Association to the Humane Society spoke in favor of closing the state’s borders.
But owners of small deer farms and hunting preserves said the move was an overreaction and would give an unfair advantage to the owners of larger farms and preserves with established herds.
Supporters of the ban said the state should do everything it can to keep Florida’s deer population free of the disease.
The commission also voted to continue studying the disease and to take other measures aimed at protecting Florida deer.