FRIDAY, July 7, 2023 (HealthDay News) — American industry engages in some of the same high-risk practices as other countries in keeping and selling commercial animals that have the potential for triggering outbreaks of disease among humans, a new report shows.
Researchers from Harvard Law School and New York University studied this as part of a larger project in which they aim to assess zoonotic disease risks related to animal industries in 15 countries.
“The risk is staggering, because our use of animals is staggering,” report author Ann Linder, a research fellow at the Harvard animal law and policy program, told The New York Times. “And we don’t even really understand where that risk is.”
The United States also “has no comprehensive strategy” to mitigate the dangers, and these practices often happen out of view and without regulation, the report said. About 60 percent of infectious diseases are zoonotic. That is also true of about 75 percent of new and emerging infectious diseases, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For the U.S. portion of the ongoing international study, researchers analyzed 36 animal markets, interviewing experts and reviewing publicly available data, government regulations, and scientific papers, The Times reported. The markets included those for dog breeding, hunting and trapping, petting zoos, and livestock auctions. The authors considered the number of animals involved, the pathogens they are known to carry, interactions with humans, and biosecurity practices.
Among the facts they unearthed were that the United States produces more than 10 billion land animals for food annually. Americans also raise more pigs and poultry than nearly any other country, Linder said. These particular animals can transmit influenza. The United States is also the leading importer of livestock and wild animals, including more than 220 million live wild animals annually.
There are more than 130 live bird markets in the Northeast alone, the report showed. Multiple outbreaks of highly pathogenic bird flu have already happened this year at these events, according to the report, and swine flu has previously spilled over into humans at markets in Minnesota.
Meanwhile, government regulation is “inconsistent and full of holes,” Linder told The Times. It is also focused on conservation regulations, rather than disease. Some data gaps exist, so the next step is further study, the report authors said. “These threats are out there, whether we turn on the lights and face them or just continue taking comfort in the dark,” Linder said.
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