Out of control wildlife trade could cause next swine flu pandemic

From TreeHugger:

A startling new report has revealed that four out of five wild animals imported into the US aren’t accurately listed—a hugely discouraging number, considering that between 2000 and 2006, 1.5 billion live animals were imported into the US. The wildlife trade is so poorly regulated that it has some scientists worried that it may lead to more invasive species, damaged ecosystems, and worse: diseases that could spread to livestock and humans. Could the badly regulated US wildlife trade lead to another international epidemic?

Okay, so it wouldn’t be swine flu, per se. But an epidemic could again stem from contact with animals carrying foreign diseases.

Terra Daily reports:

“The threat to public health is real. The majority of emerging diseases come from wildlife,” said Katherine Smith, who is also a senior consultant at Wildlife Trust. “Most of these imported animals originate in Southeast Asia – a region shown to be a hotspot for these emerging diseases.”

Astonishingly, 200 million animals are imported to the U.S. every year, and the majority of those imports are not properly regulated:

The team also found that more than 86 percent of the shipments were not classified to the level of species, despite federal guidelines that mandate species-level labeling. The lack of accurate reporting makes it impossible to fully assess the diversity of animals imported or calculate the risk of nonnative species or the diseases they may carry, the team wrote.

Of course, there’s no way of knowing whether this situation will result in the next flu epidemic, but it certainly increases the chances of such a problem.  If nothing else, the H1N1 panic raised awareness of the issues that we tend to ignore.

Congress is beginning to debate the Nonnative Wildlife Invasion Prevention Act, a which would tighten up the slack regulations.

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