International trade in birds and mammals at risk of future pandemics

Blue and gold macaw

Credit: Matts Lindh / Creative Commons

Protecting Americans from future pandemics does not threaten hunting traditions

Earlier this year, the NRDC sent a petition to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) asking them to ban US imports and exports of wild mammals and birds to help prevent future zoonotic pandemics like COVID-19 . Since then, several hunting organizations have expressed concerns that the NRDC seeks to undermine hunting traditions by calling for a ban on the movement of game across state borders. This is not the case. The NRDC’s petition is focused on stopping the risky movement of wild mammals and birds between countries – not the kind of traditional hunting some Americans enjoy. Here’s why.

International trade in birds and mammals poses an unacceptable risk

It is estimated that the legal and illegal trade in wildlife affects 1 in 4 species of mammals and birds worldwide. This level of trade is bad news for human health, as birds and mammals pose the greatest risk of spreading disease from animals to humans. Birds and mammals are common hosts for viruses. For example, the report of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) workshop on pandemics estimated that mammals harbor 320,000 different types of viruses. Because birds and mammals are genetically closer to humans than other animals and are highly marketed, they are the most likely hosts of zoonotic diseases.

We can examine our own history to see how zoonotic pandemics of birds and mammals have plagued humans in recent years, such as HIV, Ebola, avian and swine flu, SARS, and COVID-19. Given trends in human-wildlife interactions that result from land use changes, agricultural expansion, and wildlife trade and consumption, pandemics are expected to become even more common. In fact, some scientists even considered it ‘the era of pandemics’, explaining that’ pandemics will appear more often, spread faster, kill more people and affect the global economy with a more devastating impact. never before ”.

Although there is a lack of solid data on the value of the international trade in wild birds and mammals, researchers have estimated the global value of the trade in ornamental fish, mammals, amphibians and birds at around $ 5.25 billion. In contrast, last year the International Monetary Fund estimated that COVID-19 would cost the world $ 28 trillion in lost production. And, far greater than all the dollars lost, is the global loss of life which is estimated at more than 4.5 million people (2021). From all angles, the international trade in birds and mammals poses an unacceptable risk.

Biden administration should stop risky import and export of wild birds and mammals

Given the risk associated with the trade in wild birds and mammals, the NRDC petition calls on the Biden administration to do two things:

  1. First, we want the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to use its authority under the Lacey Act to find that the trade in wild birds and mammals is harmful to people and wildlife, and in doing so, institutes import and export bans. Banning the import and export of wild birds and mammals will help prevent future zoonotic pandemics by limiting the movement of risky wildlife through the supply chain, where direct contact occurs with many people and creates opportunities for zoonotic diseases to spread.
  1. Second, we want the FWS to update its existing regulatory system to comprehensively track wildlife imports and exports. Monitoring wildlife trade is an important mechanism to improve the ability of the United States to establish the origin and respond to the emergence and re-emergence of zoonotic diseases. The more we know about the origins of any disease that occurs, the better equipped we will be to respond.

NRDC not asking FWS to ban interstate movement of birds and mammals

The NRDC petition does not ask the FWS to ban the movement of wild birds and mammals between states. Instead, he asks FWS to expand the scope of wildlife already subject to import bans to include all wild birds and mammals. As reservoirs of potentially dangerous viruses, it is too risky to allow wild birds and mammals from other countries to enter the United States and maintain the United States’ demand for products that produce dangerous interactions between humans and animals. wildlife abroad. Likewise, to set a good example and prevent the spread of our own wildlife viruses, we should stop exporting wild birds and mammals from the United States to other countries.

Not only has the NRDC failed to ask the FWS to ban the interstate transport of wild birds and mammals, the legal authority on which the NRDC has based its request — the Lacey Act — does not give FWS the power. prohibit the interstate transport of wild birds and mammals. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit made this clear when it ruled on this same issue in 2017, finding that the provision of the Lacey Act under which we filed an application did not extend to interstate transportation (with the exception of Hawaii, which the Lacey Act treats differently given its unique island status). If a family from Idaho goes on a hunting trip to Montana or Wisconsin, the petition (if granted) will not prevent the return of a killed animal or part of it to the Idaho.

Since the NRDC’s petition focuses on the US border, it could (if granted) limit the ability of people traveling overseas to bring wildlife back to the United States. Specifically, such a regulation would prohibit wild birds or mammals obtained as pets or trophies from entering the United States. And, while FWS may designate exceptions to a ban through an authorization process, it should not do so unless it can prove to the public that an authorized import is safe. This is an important step in maximizing our ability to limit the threat of future pandemics.

Status quo means more pandemics

The COVID-19 pandemic underscores the threat posed by nature that is deteriorating around the world at a rate and scale unprecedented in human history. If we continue as usual, neglecting to reverse the engines of nature’s decline, we risk losing the natural life-sustaining systems on which we depend for life as we know it, things like the clean air, clean water, food security and flood control. . And, we will have more pandemics. But if we reduce or remove high disease risk species from the wildlife trade, such as birds and wild mammals, we can reduce the threat of future pandemics.

This is what the NRDC petition seeks to do and this is what we expect the Biden administration to act on if it is serious about proactively protecting human health.

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About Myra R.

Myra R.

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