Click here to watch Chairman Barrasso’s remarks.  

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), delivered the following remarks at a hearing titled “Stopping the Spread: Examining the Increased Risk of Zoonotic Disease from Illegal Wildlife Trafficking.” 

The hearing featured testimony from Catherine Semcer, research fellow at the Property and Environment Research Center; Dr. Jonathan H. Epstein, vice president for science and outreach at EcoHealth Alliance; and the Honorable Daniel M. Ashe, president and CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. 

For more information on witness testimony click here. 

Senator Barrasso’s remarks: 

“Late last year, a new disease was reported in Western China. 

“Since then, COVID-19 has disrupted life around the world, taken hundreds of thousands of lives, and devastated the global economy. 

“While much is still unknown about the origins of COVID-19, experts agree that it is a zoonotic disease, and that is the purpose of this hearing.  

“Zoonotic diseases are caused by germs that spread between animals and humans, and can lead to many types of illnesses, and even death. 

“Scientists estimate 75 percent of new or emerging infectious diseases in people originate in animals. 

“COVID-19 is not the first disease to come from wildlife. 

“HIV, SARS, MERS, Ebola, West Nile Virus, Lyme Disease are all examples of zoonotic diseases. 

“A variety of factors increase the risk of an outbreak of these diseases, including – illegal wildlife trafficking and unregulated wildlife trade; poor sanitation practices when handling raw or minimally processed meat that comes from wild animals, known as ‘bushmeat;’ changing land-use practices; and global travel that makes it possible for diseases to rapidly move from remote locations to urban centers, and around the world, in a matter of days.

“Many countries facilitate illegal wildlife trafficking, unregulated wildlife trade, and poor sanitation practices when handling bushmeat. 

“They elevate the risk of spreading disease and should be held accountable. 

“China is one of the most egregious actors. 

“According to a December 2018 report by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission – ‘China is widely recognized as the world’s largest market for trafficked wildlife products.’ 

“Chinese demand for trafficked wildlife has contributed to population declines of iconic species such as elephants, rhinos, tigers, as well as in lesser-known species. 

“For years, scientists have voiced concerns about China’s poor sanitation practices when handling bushmeat. 

“Almost 15 years ago, the journal Current Opinions in Infectious Diseases published an article entitled, ‘Infectious diseases emerging from Chinese wet-markets: zoonotic origins of severe respiratory viral infections.’ 

“It called these wet markets – ‘a unique place for transmission of zoonotic disease to humans.’ 

“In April, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on China to permanently close its wet markets, citing the – ‘strong link between illegal wildlife sold in wet markets and zoonotic diseases.’ 

“That same month, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the morning news program Fox & Friends that the current public health crisis is a ‘direct result’ of China’s wet markets. 

“China announced a permanent ban on wildlife trade and consumption in February. 

“But the action was met with skepticism.

“In an analysis it published in response to China’s announcement, the Wildlife Conservation Society called it a good step, but warned – ‘a potential loophole for traffickers who may exploit the nonfood exemptions to sell or trade live wildlife, creating additional challenges to law enforcement officers.’ 

“The skepticism is well-founded. 

“China took similar steps in response to the 2003 SARS outbreak, only to reverse them once the spotlight was off the crisis. 

“This committee has jurisdiction over the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has the primary responsibility for implementing the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES. 

“The Fish and Wildlife Service issues permits for the import or export of protected species. 

“It also has domestic and international law enforcement and investigative responsibilities related to wildlife trafficking. 

“Part of that work includes inspecting cargo for wildlife contraband, and providing grants aimed at preventing wildlife trafficking. 

“This committee also has jurisdiction over the Endangered Species Act and the Lacey Act. 

“The committee has taken action to address illegal wildlife trafficking and unregulated wildlife trade. 

“In 2019, the committee successfully reauthorized the Multinational Species Conservation Funds, which provide grants to help conserve elephants, rhinos, great apes, tigers, from poachers and wildlife traffickers. 

“We also established the Theodore Roosevelt Genius Prizes. 

“These prizes provide cash awards to encourage technological innovation to addresses challenges confronting wildlife, including protecting endangered species and preventing wildlife poaching and trafficking.

“We accomplished these and other important wildlife conservation priorities in the Wildlife Innovation and Longevity Driver Act, the ‘WILD Act’, which I sponsored along with Senators Carper, Inhofe, Booker, Boozman, and Whitehouse – totally bipartisan. 

“The WILD Act was signed into law on March 12, 2019. 

“I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to ensure China and other countries are held accountable and take appropriate action to minimize the risk of future disease outbreaks. 

“Illegal wildlife trafficking, unregulated wildlife trade and poor sanitary practices increase the risk of diseases spreading from animals to humans. 

“China is the prime bad actor in facilitating the spread of such diseases and must be held accountable.”