For Immediate Release, September 29, 2020

Contact:

Brett Hartl, (202) 817-8121, bhartl@biologicaldiversity.org

Sens. Cornyn, Booker Introduce Landmark Bill to End U.S. Live Wildlife Markets, Curb Trade

WASHINGTON— As COVID-19 continues to kill thousands of Americans a week, Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced legislation today that would prohibit the import and export of live wildlife for human consumption or medicine.

The bill would also close all live wildlife markets for those purposes in the United States. The live wildlife trade intended for human consumption dramatically increases the risk that more diseases like the novel coronavirus will spread to humans from wild animals like bats.

The “Preventing Future Pandemics Act of 2020” legislation would also significantly increase funding — $435 million per year — for the U.S. Agency for International Development and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to combat illegal wildlife trafficking, support communities’ shift away from reliance on wildlife trade for their livelihoods, and improve enforcement of national and international wildlife laws.

“Sens. Cornyn and Booker are recognizing, with this bill, that we need global solutions to prevent another pandemic and that we can’t ignore the U.S. role in fueling the dangerous wildlife trade,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “To protect human health from diseases like COVID-19, we have to fundamentally change our relationship with wildlife and nature. This common-sense legislation is a critical and bold step toward that larger goal.”

The legislation would also direct the United States to engage the global community and develop diplomatic consensus on the need to shut down live wildlife markets and curtail commercial wildlife trade for human consumption across the world.

Over the past 40 years, most major infectious disease outbreaks — including COVID-19, SARS, Ebola and HIV — have been zoonotic, meaning they’ve jumped from wildlife to people. Among the most dangerous aspects of wildlife trade is the sale of live wildlife for human consumption, a practice that occurs in many countries around the world, including the United States.

A just-released Center report determined the United States imported almost 23 million bats, primates and rodents — including whole animals, parts and products — over a recent five-year period. These groups of mammals are believed to harbor 75% of known zoonotic viruses.

Because the wildlife trade is inherently dangerous and will continue to be the source of zoonotic diseases, more still needs to be done to address the root causes of pandemics, including all aspects of wildlife exploitation and habitat destruction, which also contribute to biodiversity loss.

“We can now fly halfway around the world faster than some diseases incubate, so we can spread illness with a speed never before seen in human history,” said Hartl. “That means we need to address all the aspects of wildlife trade, because exploiting wildlife anywhere in the world affects us everywhere we live. This legislation is an incredible first step toward making pandemics a thing of the past.”

Leading scientists have estimated that if the world spent just 2% of the total cost inflicted by COVID-19 on the global economy — approximately $22-$31 billion — to curb habitat loss, deforestation and wildlife trade, it would dramatically reduce the risk of future pandemics.

Earlier this year the Center released an action plan that calls on the United States to dramatically crack down on both live and dead wildlife trade and take a global leadership role in stemming wildlife exploitation and habitat loss to stop future pandemics.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.