U.S. Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced new legislation this week that would end the sale of wildlife species within live animal markets deemed high-risk for human consumption.
Tied to previous outbreaks of human diseases, such markets have gained increasing scrutiny in the era of COVID-19. That disease, which has since become a pandemic, had a noted possible origin point at a Wuhan, China seafood market — a live animal and seafood venue. Now, the senators’ Global Wildlife Health and Pandemic Prevention Act would require the U.S. government to identify and shut down such markets if found to pose risks to public health, whether within or beyond U.S. borders.
“The close and unnatural contact between humans and wildlife poses a serious risk for outbreak of new diseases like the one we are dealing with today,” Coons said. “Our priority right now is to recover from the current crisis, but we also need to take the right steps to ensure that we stop the next pandemic before it starts.”
If passed, the bill would require federal agencies to identify which species and practices in live wildlife markets are most likely to cause zoonotic disease outbreaks. They would then be required to use all tools of international diplomacy at their disposal to close those markets. Supporting this would be an authority given to the president to sanction those nations that continue to utilize such markets. Further, agencies would be required to coordinate their approaches to zoonotic disease preparedness, minimizing human-wildlife interactions by protecting ecosystems, and reducing demand among hard-pressed communities that currently depend on wildlife for food.
“For the past several weeks, our national conversation has focused appropriately on how we can best recover from Covid-19,” Graham said. “There is another question though, equally urgent, that demands our attention: how can we prevent this from happening again? Governments in Asia and elsewhere should immediately shut down markets that sell high-risk wildlife for human consumption and fully enforce laws already on the books to end the global illegal trade in wildlife.”
Graham and Coons have been backed by several prominent environmental groups, including the World Wildlife Fund, Vulcan, Conservation International, and the Nature Conservancy.
“To prevent the next pandemic, we need to close markets that sell high-risk wildlife and reduce human consumption of these species,” Carter Roberts, president and CEO of the World Wildlife Fund, said. “We also need to halt the degradation or destruction of our remaining wild places while ensuring food security for vulnerable communities. This legislation provides the U.S. government with important tools, direction, and resources to accomplish those goals.”