Legislators Have Given Us a Bipartisan Opportunity to Protect Human Health and Wildlife. We Can’t Afford to Let It Pass Us By.
Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) have taken a significant first step in addressing our dysfunctional relationship with wildlife and nature—a relationship that is a direct cause of over 200,000 deaths and counting in the United States—with the introduction of landmark bipartisan legislation to close live animal markets in the U.S. and end the U.S. import and export of live wild-sourced mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians for human consumption and medicine. But that is not all. At a time when so many leaders seem to be looking inward, the bill takes a broader view, articulating a series of steps to reduce consumption and trade of wild animals beyond U.S. borders.
Cornyn and Booker are right to begin at home. International wildlife trade, which includes both legal and illegal trade, is largely driven by demand in a handful of consumer destinations—China, Japan, the European Union, and the United States. Consumers in the United States alone account for an estimated 20 percent of the global wildlife market. Annually, the U.S. imports over 224 million live animals. While many of these animals are destined for the pet industry—and therefore remain exempt under the bill—astounding numbers supply food markets. For instance, according to one study, the U.S. imports 2,216 metric tons of live frogs every year for sale in food markets. If the U.S. sincerely desires to reduce zoonotic risk—to say nothing of the extinction crisis—it needs to put its own house in order.
Beginning at home is also necessary to secure U.S. leadership to influence change abroad. The Preventing Future Pandemics Act of 2020 contains several tools to support—and at times persuade—foreign efforts to reduce wildlife markets. These mechanisms could easily founder under charges of hypocrisy if the U.S. were to point the finger at other countries while ignoring its own failures. Thankfully, the bill’s sponsors don’t make that mistake.
The Preventing Future Pandemics Act of 2020 would facilitate a global shift in our interactions with wildlife by (1) funding a USAID program to spearhead demand reduction efforts and commensurate shifts in sources of food and protein for communities that currently rely on wildlife consumption, (2) authorizing the hiring and international deployment of 50 new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Law Enforcement Attachés in an effort to disrupt illegal wildlife trafficking abroad, and (3) establishing a certification and sanction process for countries that fail to outlaw commercial wildlife markets for food and medicine or whose nationals engage in trafficking animals for human consumption.
The bill is not perfect—in taking aim at human consumption of wild animals, for example, it potentially risks the disease spillover inherent in industrial animal farming and provides other brokered exemptions. But overall, the Preventing Future Pandemics Act of 2020 is a bold call to action, and it is an appropriate legal response to the pandemic. It is common sense, bipartisan, and most importantly, recognizes the role that consumer countries, like the U.S. play in driving human-animal interactions that lead to zoonotic disease spillover, and the responsibility such countries have for supporting transformational changes in the human consumption of wild animals. Whether we call it the bare minimum, an acceptable first step, or even something that approaches transformative change to U.S. policy, we should all agree that this bill deserves passage into law.
Erica Lyman is the Director of the Global Law Alliance for Animals and the Environment (the Global Law Alliance), a collaboration between CALS and the #1 ranked Environmental Law Program at Lewis & Clark Law School. She is a Clinical Professor of Law at Lewis & Clark Law School. Erica’s practice has included 15 years of work advocating for wildlife within the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna and work on-the-ground to stop wildlife trafficking.
Nick Fromherz is a senior staff attorney at the Global Law Alliance. Previously, Nick served as a Visiting Assistant Professor, teaching courses within Lewis & Clark’s Environmental, Natural Resources, and Energy Law program. Since 2015, Nick has taught Administrative Law at Lewis & Clark Law School during several summer sessions. Combining this experience with his considerable time living and working in Latin America, Nick expands the Global Law Alliance’s footprint in the Americas while building on its international wildlife practice.
The Center for Animal Law Studies (CALS) was founded in 2008 with a mission to educate the next generation of animal law attorneys and advance animal protection through the law. With vision and bold risk-taking, CALS has since developed into a world-renowned animal law epicenter, with the most comprehensive animal law curriculum offered anywhere. CALS recently launched the Global Law Alliance for Animals and the Environment, as champions for wild animals and wild spaces. In addition, CALS is the only program that offers an advanced legal degree in animal law and three specialty Animal Law Clinics. CALS is a fully self-funded nonprofit organization operating under the Lewis & Clark College 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, and is only able to provide these educational opportunities through donations and grants.