The Canadian Food Agency has ordered the slaughter of 1,700 domesticated elk in an effort to stop the spread of chronic wasting disease in elk at six unnamed farms in Saskatchewan. With symptoms similar to BSE, it has the potential to ruin Canada’s C$1bn elk and deer farming industry.

The decision to kill the animals comes in the wake of a World Health Organisation directive stating that any products from animals carrying a disease resembling Mad Cow Disease must not be consumed. The aim of the slaughter is to ensure the illness does not enter human food through elk meat or a dietary health food supplements containing a product called velvet antler.

There is no scientific proof that the fatal disease is transmittable to humans nor is it known if it can spread to cattle and then to humans. Canadian farmers receive C$4,000 compensation for each animal slaughtered plus costs to dispose of the carcasses.

By Monica Dobie, correspondent