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Two green groups call for end to wildlife trade to prevent next pandemic

Two green groups call for end to wildlife trade to prevent next pandemic
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Some environmental groups are pushing to end the wildlife trade, arguing doing so could help prevent future pandemics.

The coronavirus is thought to have originated from a group of viruses carried by bats, but researchers have yet to pinpoint how it jumped to humans.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Center for Biological Diversity have now released what they call an “action plan to prevent future pandemics.”

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Though environmental groups have long pushed for restrictions to the wildlife market as a way to protect animals, the changes are now being called for as part of a public health approach to limit zoonotic diseases that spread from animals to humans.

“The best way to dramatically reduce the likelihood of another pandemic is to significantly curtail wildlife trade, permanently close all live wildlife markets, build global capacity to conserve wildlife and protect nature, and shift to a more respectful relationship with the millions of other species with which we share our planet,” the groups wrote in a platform released Monday.

The wildlife trade is under increasing scrutiny lately, both due to the pandemic and the popularity of the Netflix documentary "Tiger King," which has renewed questions over the ability to buy large cats and other exotic wildlife.

The latest stimulus package passed by the House also seeks to limit the spread of zoonotic diseases by targeting the wildlife trade.

One portion of the $3 trillion Heroes Act would dedicate $111 million to track species “that could pose a biohazard risk to human health,” blocking their import to the U.S. and increasing penalties for those who seek to trade them.

The legislation, which has yet to pass the Senate, puts more responsibility in the hands of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey, which would work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to block the importation of dangerous animals while also tracking any potential outbreaks among wildlife populations in the U.S.

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It would also allow the government to immediately block wildlife that might present a public danger and prevent the transportation of animals across state lines if they post a risk.

But some in environmental circles would prefer to go further than the bill, banning the import and export of all live wildlife entirely.

“The problem with zoonotic emerging infectious disease is it doesn't matter if species is illegal so the focus on illegal wildlife alone doesn't curb the threat as much as you could,” said Zak Smith, a senior attorney with NRDC.

He sees zoonotic diseases as part of a larger biodiversity issue, with species that lose their habitat to farming and development coming into more regular contact with humans, while the wildlife trade brings together animals that might otherwise never interact in close proximity to each other and humans.

Smith said the balance needs to shift, with trading in wildlife presumed to be dangerous until proven otherwise.

The groups’ platform warns against the “mass commodification” of wildlife.

“Economic globalization and the speed at which live wildlife, wildlife products and people can move around the world, we have created the conditions in which future pandemics will continue to wreak havoc if we do not reassess our relationship with wildlife,” they wrote.