On February 4, 2022, the U.S. House of Representatives took a critical step toward stopping wildlife-borne diseases from spilling over into human populations by including important elements from the Preventing Future Pandemics Act (PFPA) within The Creating Opportunities for Manufacturing, Pre-Eminence in Technology and Economic Strength (COMPETES) Act, ultimately supporting biodiversity and species conservation, and protecting against future pandemics.
The last two years have demonstrated just how destructive pandemics can be. Not only do infectious diseases threaten our health, our lives, and the lives of our loved ones, they can wreak havoc on our daily routines, upend the economy and our livelihoods, and ultimately cut us off from both family and friends. Infectious diseases can feel as though they originate randomly and even ‘out of the blue’, but their origins are well-known—and that means many of them can be prevented.
Most new infectious diseases, including COVID-19, HIV, Ebola, and SARS, among others, originate in wildlife before “spilling over” into human beings, either through direct contact or via domestic animals such as livestock. This primarily occurs in a couple of ways: through deforestation, which brings people and domestic animals into greater contact with wildlife, or through the trade and exploitation of live animals, where handlers come into direct contact with the blood and other body fluids of wild animals. The spillover of diseases from wildlife into human beings is a significant threat to global public health and it is a threat that is steadily increasing as a result of human activities.
The PFPA addresses these critical dangers by adopting policies and procedures to reduce or eliminate the trade in live wild animals for human consumption and to support communities in voluntarily transitioning to safer sources of nutrition. The PFPA also provides support to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to expand key programs that combat wildlife trafficking. Additionally, the Act would bolster current efforts to work with other state and non-state partners to shut down commercial wildlife markets and build international coalitions to reduce the demand for wildlife as food. All of these initiatives are important, because they reduce the risk of spillover before it ever happens, helping to prevent the emergence of future zoonotic pathogens (like COVID-19).
In addition to the critical PFPA language discussed above, the House version of the COMPETES Act includes additional provisions that would protect animals, conserve habitats, or protect against zoonotic disease by:
- Prohibiting U.S. imports, exports, possession, trade and sale of shark fins and captive-raised mink.
- Reauthorizing the Tropical Forest and Coral Reef Conservation Act to protect, conserve and restore the world’s tropical forests and coral reefs.
- Reauthorizing the Eliminate, Neutralize, and Disrupt (END) Wildlife Trafficking Act to ensure the State Department and other agencies have the authority they need to carry out critical anti-wildlife poaching trafficking activities.
Why you should care
Every day brings further evidence that, if we continue to ignore and misuse animals and the environment, we do so at our peril. We have seen and felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic which emerged from a legal live wildlife market, ultimately disrupting and destroying individuals, families, communities, and for a time, the global economy. The bipartisan language in the COMPETES Act acknowledges that we must change the behaviors that brought us to this moment and do better—far better—to protect against future pandemics.
The COMPETES Act is now undergoing a formal conference process where conferees chosen from both the House and Senate collaborate to draft a final version of the bill.
IFAW urges the conferees to include these critical protections for both wildlife and human health within the final COMPETES Act. These provisions represent a fundamental step toward a healthier world where animals and people thrive together.
-Kate Wall, IFAW Senior Legislative Manager