The coronavirus pandemic has revealed the terrible consequences of keeping live wild animals in cruel, unhealthy and unsuitable confinement in wildlife markets that slaughter and sell them for food. Bills introduced in Congress this week would position the United States as a global leader in ending such animal mistreatment and the resulting risk to human health by prohibiting certain trade in live wildlife for human consumption on our soil.

The Preventing Future Pandemics Act of 2020, S. 4749/H.R. 8433, introduced in the Senate by Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Cory Booker, D-N.J., and in the House by Reps. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., and Fred Upton, R-Mich., would end all import, export and sales of certain live wildlife for the primary purpose of human consumption and medicine in the United States. The bills would also build support for international efforts to halt the trade around the world.

While the world’s attention has mostly focused on the wildlife trade in China, where the novel coronavirus is believed to have originated at a live wildlife market, there is a need for prompt action in other nations too, including the United States. It is not unusual, for example, to find live pigeons, turtles and frogs, including red eared slider turtles and bullfrogs imported from China, being sold at food markets in San Francisco and New York City as well as other U.S. communities. 

Wherever they exist, live wildlife markets tend to be filthy, crowded places where sick, injured and anxious animals are displayed in small cages. Once purchased, they are often slaughtered on-site, creating a perfect breeding ground for the transmission of disease from animals to humans.

The bills introduced yesterday also target the use of wildlife in traditional medicine, which propels demand for the capture, trade and slaughter of live animals and is a significant driver of trafficking in some of the world’s most imperiled species such as pangolins and tigers.

Health authorities and animal protection groups like ours have long cautioned the world about the risks that wildlife trafficking and live wildlife markets pose to human health. Besides the novel coronavirus, wildlife markets have been implicated in the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), bird flu and Ebola, among others.

In February, China’s Standing Committee of the National Peoples’ Congress banned wild animal consumption for human food. Moving forward with a ban in the United States would place our nation in a strong position to influence the global fight against future pandemic spread, both by setting a strong precedent for other countries to adopt and through more dedicated strategies to address the problem worldwide.

The Preventing Future Pandemics Act would include:

  • Funding for USAID programs related to biodiversity, wildlife trafficking, sustainable landscape, and global health, food security and resilience to address the threats and causes of zoonotic disease outbreaks. This includes programs to support shifts to diversified alternative sources of food and protein in communities that rely on the consumption of wildlife for food security.
  • Collaboration with international partners to end commercial wildlife markets and the international trade in terrestrial wildlife for human consumption, and to disrupt and ultimately eliminate wildlife trafficking associated with the operations of wildlife markets.
  • Further facilitation of law enforcement operations and enactment of economic, diplomatic or other penalties for countries that continue to facilitate wildlife markets or wildlife trafficking. This includes mobilizing 50 new United States Fish and Wildlife Service attachés to combat wildlife trafficking in countries that are known to facilitate or host wildlife trafficking operations.

We simply cannot afford more delay in eliminating these risky, inhumane forms of wildlife exploitation and crime. More than a million people have died worldwide due to the coronavirus, including nearly 206,000 in the United States. Add to this the terrible toll this pandemic has taken on domestic and wild animal populations, and there is more than enough incentive for the passage of this sensible measure.

Please join us and urge your U.S. Senators and Representative to support the Preventing Future Pandemics Act. Passing these bills into law will ensure that our nation—and our world—are kinder, safer and healthier, for people and for animals.