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Think back to the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when masks and Zoom parties weren’t yet a part of daily life, and when rumors were flying as to the virus's origin. For a few weeks, the nation was in hysterics over bats, and we couldn't escape the term ‘wet markets’. Since then, we’ve replaced that term with the more fitting ‘live wildlife markets’. And while scientists are still debating exactly what species were involved, one thing is certain: the SARS-CoV-2 virus – or COVID-19 – is zoonotic, meaning it jumped from animals into human beings.
Zoonotic illnesses aren’t new. In the United States, we regularly deal with rabies, West Nile virus, Zika, and Lyme disease, all of which originated in the animal world. Globally, some of the deadliest viruses of our lifetimes got their start in other species, including MERS, HIV, and Ebola. The incidence of zoonotic spillover – the jump from wildlife or domestic species into humans – is on the rise. The animals aren’t at fault. The reason for the rise in zoonotic spillover is a result of human activities like habitat destruction, overhunting, climate change, and the wildlife trade.
There's good reason that live wildlife markets, where wild animals are sold as food or medicine, have received so much attention. Wherever they are – here in the United States, in Asia, Europe, or Africa – these markets are a breeding ground for disease. A dozen or more animal species can come together at a live wildlife market, mixing feces, urine, blood, and ultimately pathogens, providing a perfect opportunity for deadly ‘bugs’ to spread to the human population. Take the hustle and bustle of a bazaar, add the presence of caged wildlife available for slaughter, and it's easy to see how pathogens can mingle and migrate.
Fortunately, a new bill designed to shut down live wildlife markets has been introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), and in the U.S. House by Representatives Mike Quigley (D-IL) and Fred Upton (R-MI).
The bill, the Preventing Future Pandemics Act (H.R. 8433/S. 4749) would ban the import, export, and sale of live wild animals for consumption as food or medicine in the United States. Moreover, the 'PFPA’ provides a framework for the U.S. to engage other nations, through diplomacy and other channels, in order to close commercial wildlife markets internationally, and to end the associated wildlife trade that supplies those markets. All while respecting the needs of communities that have cultural or food security relationships with wildlife consumption.
In seeking to shut down live wildlife markets at home and around the globe, the PFPA recognizes the idea of One Health, an understanding that human health, animal health, agricultural health, and ecosystem health are inextricably linked. Disease does not exist in a vacuum; it travels from creature to creature, species to species, across our shared spaces. We at IFAW fully embrace the notion that human and animal wellbeing go hand in hand. Caring for animals often benefits people in unexpected and powerful ways.
At IFAW, we are proud to support the PFPA as a strong step toward practices and policies that allow animals and people to better thrive together. It is true that COVID-19 has wrought tragedy across the nation, yes. The least we can do is make use of it as a learning opportunity. Let's learn from the behaviors that brought us to this pass. Let's do better in the future to prevent similar outbreaks.
-Kate Wall, Senior Legislative Manager