“The time has come for the global community to collectively assume responsibility for the negative externalities of the commercial trade in wildlife for consumption. The world has irrevocably changed and there can be no going back.” WCS’s Dr. Christian Walzer
A new peer-reviewed paper published today in Frontiers, "COVID-19 and the Curse of Piecemeal Perspectives,” emphasizes the steps needed now to prevent future zoonotic pandemics and gives a critique of the many one-off solutions proposed over the past several months since the outbreak of SARS-CoV-2. The paper is authored by Dr. Christian Walzer, Executive Director of Health at the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Walzer establishes at the start of the paper that the virus responsible for the COVID-19 outbreak originated in wild animals. He writes that this comes as no surprise as history and data make this clear: a majority of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, as globally more than 335 Emerging Infectious Disease (EID) outbreaks, involving 183 distinct pathogens, were reported between 1940-2004; there have been more than 50 outbreaks per decade and the rate is increasing as more than half of these events in recent years originated in wildlife; and among emerging zoonoses, specifically, 72 percent originated in wildlife and the rest in domestic animals.
Walzer writes that the causes are also clear: “The commercial use of wildlife for consumption encompassing both legal and illegal trade is poorly regulated with porous boundaries between the two entities. This trade, particularly in live animals, creates superinterfaces along the food value chain co-mingling species from many different geographies and habitats while creating perfect conditions for the exchange and recombination of viruses.”
While listing numerous steps needed, including long-term, structural changes in addressing future pandemics, Walzer states that the pragmatic, most cost-effective action governments can take with immediate effect is to stop all commercial trade of wild birds and mammals for human consumption: “Most importantly, this reduces the risk of future zoonotic transmission while also safeguarding resources for those Indigenous Peoples and local communities who rely on wild meat to meet their nutritional requirements.”
Stopping all commercial trade of wild birds and mammals for human consumption is also a policy position issued by WCS on March 28. That policy can be found HERE.
Other steps needed to reduce the risk of future zoonotic pandemics as outlined by Dr. Walzer:
The author gives a critique, also on four “unsound and inconsistent approaches presently being widely promoted in media, and to governments and donor institutions. They are:
Walzer concludes: It all comes down to a numbers game: the more often we force conditions that drive increases in direct contact between wildlife and humans, the higher the likelihood of another spillover event. Timidly tackling a limited number of markets or species and developing standards that purportedly regulate and sanitize wildlife trade are backward-looking, non-scientific, reductionist approaches based on naïve simplifications of interdependencies in disease emergence, economic development, and global interconnectedness.
"We need bold, forward-reasoning organizations and leaders who acknowledge root causes, take responsibility and weather the inevitable pushback from narrowly focused interest groups while also overcoming traditional economic and disciplinary silos to design future health and well-being for all.”