Could an Out of Control US Wildlife Trade Cause the Next Swine Flu?

poorly regulated wildlife trade swine flu photo

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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. From Terra Daily:

"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."

And since we're getting an astonishing 200 million animals imported into the US every year, that means an extremely diverse set of animals are pouring into the country. And what's alarming is that the vast majority of the animals aren't properly regulated at all:
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.

Which greatly concerns one of the authors of the report:
"Shipments are coming in labeled 'live vertebrate' or 'fish,'" Daszak said. "If we don't know what animals are coming in, how do we know which are going to become invasive species or carry diseases that could affect livestock, wildlife or ourselves?"

Now, it's pure speculation whether this trade could lead to a widespread epidemic of any kind, but based on the findings from the report stricter regulations are all but necessary to mitigate disease risks.

The report was researched by Brown University, the Center for Disease Control, and the Global Invasive Species Programme. It was timed to coincide with Congress beginning to deliberate on the Nonnative Wildlife Invasion Prevention Act, a bill that would tighten up the slack regulations. Even though fears of the swine flu are subsiding (finally), who wants to bet that this is one bill Congress will approve of?

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