Good morning. The Environment and Public Works Committee will come to order.
We are here today to explore current regulations governing the importation of exotic species and the impact on human health and safety. As I will be unable to attend the entire hearing, I would like to thank my colleague Sen. Allard for generously offering to preside today.
In June of this year, the first cases of monkeypox in the Western Hemisphere were discovered in the United States. We were extremely fortunate that the agencies testifying today, along with their state counterparts and the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, acted in a coordinated effort to efficiently contain the monkeypox outbreak. Unfortunately, it is almost inevitable that the United States will face similar threats in the future.
As a result of globalization and the increase in human populations, man is coming into contact with foreign animals at an increasing rate. In addition, the number of individuals owning exotic pets, as well as the variety of species, have increased dramatically.
Diseases transmitted from animals to humans, zoonotic diseases, account for 61 percent of infectious diseases and 75 percent of emerging diseases. In 1989, the United States was awakened to the weight of the threat when monkeys imported from the Phillippines to Reston, Virginia were diagnosed with a new species of Ebola virus. Fortunately, the virus was not as virulent as other deadly strains of Ebola found in Africa.
Currently, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) regulates the importation of exotic species detrimental to livestock and agriculture, FWS regulates the importation of exotic species detrimental to wildlife, but it is not clear who is responsible for proactively regulating the importation of exotic species with regard to human health. CDC has done a very good job at reacting to and containing the outbreak of monkeypox. However, I am looking forward to hearing from the witnesses as to whether the existing authorities should be clarified.
During the course of today’s hearing, I am hopeful the witnesses will also provide insight into whether additional measures need to be taken to minimize the risk of introduction of zoonotic diseases by imported exotic species. It is imperative that we determine the threat of zoonosis outbreaks from imported exotic species, as opposed to other avenues of introduction, and whether the threat warrants additional restrictions.
Additionally, I feel it is important that we thoroughly explore whether additional legislative authority is necessary or if any shortcomings would be best addressed at the agency level. It is critical that we proceed with caution as a complete ban on some exotic species may simply drive the distribution network underground where it cannot be regulated.