Coronavirus and the trade in wildlife

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Series Details PE 649.409
Publication Date May 2020
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Nearly three quarters of emerging infectious diseases in humans are caused by zoonotic pathogens. The majority of them originate in wildlife. Human activities, such as trade in wildlife, increase opportunities for animal–human interactions and facilitate zoonotic disease transmission. Several significant diseases, including Ebola and the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak, have been traced, in part, to substantial animal-human contact along the trade chain. Current information suggests that the Covid-19 pandemic may have started from a local Chinese wildlife market.

Wildlife trade, though difficult to quantify, is one of the most lucrative trades in the world. It is regulated under the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES), an international agreement to which the European Union (EU) and its Member States are parties. Through a permit system, CITES aims to ensure that international trade in listed species is sustainable, legal and traceable.

Curbing illegal trade, however, remains a challenge. In 2016, the EU adopted an action plan on wildlife trafficking, which runs until 2020 and is currently under evaluation. The European Parliament supports its renewal and the strengthening of its provisions.

The coronavirus crisis has thrown into sharp focus the threat of disease transmission posed by trade in and consumption of wild animal species, prompting calls for bans on wildlife trade and closure of wildlife markets. Others advocate better regulation, including enhanced health and safety and sanitation measures. With matters relating to zoonotic diseases outside CITES' mandate, some have suggested the development of a new international convention to address the issue. To reduce the risks of future outbreaks, many recommend an integrated approach, which would notably also cover nature preservation and restoration.

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