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Washington, D.C. – Congressman Michael McCaul, Lead Republican of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, along with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Congressmen Mike Quigley (D-IL), led more than 60 of their House and Senate colleagues in urging leading international health and wildlife organizations to take aggressive action toward a permanent global ban  of live wildlife markets, also known as “wet” markets, as well as a ban on the international trade of live wildlife. “Wet” markets create a breeding ground for infectious diseases such as the 2003 SARS outbreak, and are suspected to be the source of COVID-19. 

“Global action is needed to prevent future deadly pandemics,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to the Directors-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). “It is imperative that we take action as a global community to protect public health.”

According to scientists, wet markets are fertile breeding ground for zoonotic diseases – diseases that jump between animals and humans –  because of the close proximity of shoppers, vendors, and both live and dead animals. This environment allows viruses from different species to come into contact, mutate, and spread from one species to another.

“The viruses can subsequently spread or ‘spill over’ into humans through handling and consumption of wildlife, potentially starting highly contagious outbreaks of new and deadly diseases for which we have no natural immunity — as we are currently seeing with COVID-19 and have seen with SARS, Ebola, monkeypox and Lassa fever in the recent past,” the lawmakers explained.  “Wet markets in particular pose a threat to global public health because wildlife comes from many different locations without any standardized sanitary or health inspection processes.”

Scientists estimate that approximately 60 to 75 percent of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, and such diseases have been responsible for at least five pandemics over the last 45 years, including Ebola and MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome).

Full text of the letter is available here or below. 

Dear Directors General,

In order to help prevent the next pandemic, we write today to urge your organizations to take aggressive action toward a global shut down of live wildlife markets and a ban on the international trade of live wildlife that is not intended for conservation purposes. Live wildlife markets, known as “wet” markets, were linked to the 2003 SARS outbreak and are believed to be the source of the current COVID-19. As this pandemic continues to threaten the lives of millions, pushes healthcare systems to the breaking point, and devastates economies around the world, it is imperative that we all take action as a global community to protect public health.

Scientists studying zoonotic diseases – diseases that jump between animals and humans – have pointed to the close proximity of shoppers, vendors, and both live and dead animals at wildlife markets in countries around the world as prime transmission locations for these pathogens. The stress of transport and holding wild animals in these crowded markets where they are also sometimes slaughtered creates an unnatural environment where viruses from different species are able to come in contact, mutate, and spread from one species to another. The viruses can subsequently spread or “spill over” into humans through handling and consumption of wildlife, potentially starting highly contagious outbreaks of new and deadly diseases for which we have no natural immunity — as we are currently seeing with COVID-19 and have seen with SARS, Ebola, monkeypox and Lassa fever in the recent past.

“Wet” markets in particular pose a threat to global public health because wildlife comes from many different locations without any standardized sanitary or health inspection processes. Market vendors cage animals of different species in close proximity, where the animals are likely to urinate, defecate and potentially bleed or salivate on the animals below them. The risk to food buyers can also be through the slaughter of animals in front of customers, releasing disease carrying fluids like blood, saliva, and excrement into the air, which can then splash or splatter on nearby people, be consumed or inadvertently inhaled by humans.

Scientists estimate that approximately 60-75% of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic and that approximately 72% originate from wildlife. Scientists also estimate that the majority of all future emerging infectious diseases will be zoonotic in nature, and zoonotic diseases are the ecological source for a long history of infectious diseases. For example, in the past 45 years, at least five pandemics have been traced back to bats. Ebola, which has killed 13,500 people in multiple outbreaks since 1976, Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, better known as MERS, which can be found in 28 countries, and the Nipah virus, which has a 78% fatality rate, all originated in bats. In the case of SARS and the COVID-19 outbreak, bats were also the original hosts. Bats then infected other animals, who infected humans. In the case of HIV, a virus originally developed in chimpanzees and spread to humans when humans hunted these chimpanzees for meat and came into contact with their infected blood.

It is clear that to protect human health, these close and sustained interactions with wildlife must stop. While China has banned the trade and consumption of wild animals in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, there are significant loopholes relating to the current legal trade of wildlife for medicinal purposes. China took similar steps after the 2003 SARS outbreak, but ultimately lifted the restrictions after the outbreak came under control and perceived risk decreased.

As leaders of organizations tasked with ensuring human and animal health, we urge you to work with member states to ensure that live wildlife markets are closed permanently in all countries and that the international trade of live wildlife not intended for conservation purposes is banned.

We thank you for your attention to this issue.

Sincerely, 

 

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