ATLANTA, Georgia — According to a press release by Rep. Mike Quigley [D-IL], COVID-19 is just one of the many viruses that originated from wild animals in the past few decades. On January 4, 2021, Rep. Quigley and Rep. Fred Upton [R-MI] reintroduced H.R.151, the Preventing Future Pandemics Act of 2021, to prioritize global public health. “For the sake of our health, our economy and our livelihoods, preventing the next pandemic before it starts is perhaps the most important thing we must do,” says Rep. Quigley.
The History of the Preventing Future Pandemics Act
The initial bill was introduced in September 2020 during the 116th Congress. It went through six committees with 115 cosponsors, but it died in the House of Representatives even though it had bipartisan support. The new H.R.151 currently has 109 cosponsors comprising of both Democrats and Republicans. The bill already went through several committees and subcommittees in the 117th Congress. However, the bill still awaits action in the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security. In January 2021, Sens. John Cornyn [R-TX] and Cory Booker [D-NJ] also reintroduced S.37, “a companion bill,” for consideration in the Senate. S.37 currently has three cosponsors and awaits action in the Committee on Foreign Relations.
The Issue with Wildlife Markets
According to Brookings, many countries worldwide have markets that sell the meat of wild animals, yet not many of these markets operate under sanitary conditions. Some of these meats originate from animals that could be infected with zoonotic diseases that may result in a viral spillover to humans. Zoonotic diseases originating from animals include H1N1 swine flu, SARS, yellow fever, Ebola and the most recent COVID-19 pandemic. These zoonotic diseases threaten global health and destroy economies. The COVID-19 pandemic destroyed 20 years of progress toward combating global poverty with up to 150 million people falling into extreme poverty.
Ways to Prevent Future Pandemics
According to Bloomberg, Peter Daszak, a scientist working for the nonprofit research group, EcoHealth Alliance, predicts that there are at least “1.7 million unknown mammal viruses,” all with the potential to spread to humans. Daszak emphasizes that scientists should research and monitor these zoonotic viruses to prevent future pandemics. Although further studies would be expensive, this research could help determine which regions are most vulnerable to future infectious diseases and warn governments ahead of time.
US Efforts to Address Root Causes of Pandemics
The Preventing Future Pandemics Act of 2021 aims to address the root causes of pandemics through the “worldwide closure of wildlife markets and the ending of the associated commercial trade of terrestrial wildlife that feed and supply those markets,” other than in nations where “the consumption of wildlife is necessary for local food security” or in areas where this prohibition would “significantly disrupt a readily available and irreplaceable food supply.” The overarching goal of the bill is to prevent the spread of zoonotic diseases.
The bill authorizes the State Department to implement strategies such as “economic and diplomatic penalties” to enforce these regulations globally. The legislation would also authorize the employment of new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officers to “disrupt illegal wildlife trafficking abroad.”
The bill also provides $300 million for the U.S. Agency for International Development up until 2030 to implement programs that “reduce demand for consumption of wildlife from wildlife markets and support shifts to diversified alternative sources of food and protein in communities that rely upon the consumption of wildlife.” It also directs the U.S. to collaborate with other U.N. members to implement an international prohibition on wildlife markets. If this occurs, the president has the authority to place sanctions on any state that refuses to ban wildlife markets.
In addition, Cornyn’s website states that the Preventing Future Pandemics Act of 2021 instructs the Health and Human Services secretary to have the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine study the effects of wildlife exposure on public health. The team also needs to determine how eating wildlife meat or using it in medications causes a viral spillover. This team will also look at wildlife market conditions and determine how these conditions impact the spread of zoonotic diseases.
The US as a Leader
The Preventing Future Pandemics Act of 2021 would make the U.S. a leading actor in influencing international policy and getting international government organizations to address the causes of pandemics. The bill helps increase international cooperation, which is vital to prioritize public health and poverty reduction. The bill has already received support from humane societies, wildlife organizations, medical institutes, aquariums and zoos.
China, the main wildlife meat exporter and area of consumption, has begun to close wildlife markets and farms. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the country also banned its citizens from eating meat from wildlife markets. China also made changes to its wildlife protection law that allowed the sale of some endangered species.
International efforts to prevent exposure to wildlife meats and markets are vital to protect people physically and economically. Further steps to prevent another pandemic help reduce poverty by safeguarding the world from another economic collapse as businesses thrive and people remain employed and in good health. As a result, the world would see an upward trend of economic growth.