During the month of January, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission will hold nine public hearings on proposed rule changes, including a controversial push by deer farmers for more permits and less regulation. The owners of 37 deer farms, which sell animals to game preserves as well as for their meat and antlers, have organized to propose rule changes that would expand their industry.

The group is being led by Tom Smith—the wealthy CEO of Food Lion grocery stores, head of a statewide association of deer and elk farmers, and holder of one of the largest captive deer and elk operations in the state, reports the News & Observer. Hunters and wildlife conservationists fear that the expansion of deer farming will put the state’s wildlife at an increased risk for contagious diseases, such as Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).

According to the Wildlife Resources Commission, CWD has not yet been found in North Carolina, but in 2010 and 2011, it was detected in deer just across the West Virginia border and in Virginia and Maryland. Concerns over CWD first spiked in 2002 as the disease spread from the West. At that time, there were 110 people with permits for captive cervids (moose, elk, and deer) in North Carolina but no game plan to keep CWD out of the state. The commission spent $250,000 buying captive deer, killing them, and giving the meat of healthy deer to charities. Deer farming operations have been small-scale ever since, and previous attempts to expand deer farming interests have so far been unsuccessful.

The public comment period for newly proposed rules on holding deer in captivity ends January 23, and the commission will decide whether to adopt the temporary rules at its January 29 meeting.