Apr 8, 2020 - Science

Citing coronavirus, lawmakers call for a ban on wildlife markets

A woman at a wet market in the Philippines.

A wet market in Hong Kong. Photo: Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

A rare bipartisan group of lawmakers is calling on global health organizations to permanently ban the buying and selling of live wildlife, which is likely the root cause of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Driving the news: Nearly 70 Democrats and Republicans from both chambers of Congress are sending a letter on Wednesday calling on top officials at the World Health Organization, UN and World Organization for Animal Health to do just that.

The big picture: Zoonotic diseases — those spread from animals to humans — are increasing and are more virulent, experts say. The lawmakers write that in the last 45 years, at least five pandemics have been traced to bats. This coronavirus likely came from bats or pangolins, an anteater-like mammal.

Where it stands: The UN biodiversity chief just called for the permanent ban on live wildlife markets, known as "wet" markets, and China moved to ban such markets in late February. The lawmakers want more aggressive and permanent moves.

What they're saying: China's ban has "significant loopholes," the lawmakers write in the letter, organized by Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.).

  • China took similar steps after a far less widespread outbreak of another coronavirus in 2003 but "ultimately lifted the restrictions after the outbreak came under control and perceived risk decreased," the lawmakers write.

The intrigue: Multilateral, global institutions like the WHO are facing increasing scrutiny amid this pandemic.

  • On Tuesday, President Trump criticized the WHO and threatened to cut U.S. funding for it.
  • A smaller bipartisan group of senators sent another letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday asking him to work with the same institutions to ban wildlife markets.

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