The authors analyzed 36 animal markets in the United States, including dog breeding, hunting, fishing, livestock auctions, backyard chicken farming, and petting zoos. To assess the scale of risk posed by each industry, they interviewed experts and reviewed scientific papers, publicly available data, government regulations, and more. For each industry, they considered 10 factors, including the number of animals involved, the pathogens they are known to carry and the interactions they have with humans, as well as any biosecurity practices and systems.
“We’ve just discovered a lot that has surprised us,” said Dr. Jamieson, starting with the staggering number of animals used for commercial purposes in the United States. The country produces more than 10 billion wild animals for food each year, including more pigs and poultry, which can harbor and transmit influenza, than almost any other country, Ms. Linder said. The report notes that it is the world’s largest importer of both livestock and wild animals. (Over 220 million live wild animals are imported annually.)
The regulatory landscape, however, is “inconsistent and riddled with loopholes,” Linder said. She said inspections of wildlife imports are sporadic, and even when they do occur, they focus on enforcing conservation regulations rather than disease. The authors note that no federal agency claims jurisdiction over mink farms, which have become hot spots for Covid-19, and before the pandemic some states didn’t know how many such farms were located within their borders.
Dr Kuchipudi said the findings highlight the need for more regulation and better public education. He noted that many Americans may not even be aware that some of these industries and practices exist, but that “the danger can affect us all.”
The authors said the report is only a starting point, and basic information — including basic data on the size and location of some animal industries — remains unknown. (People working in some of these industries failed to respond to the authors’ inquiries, Ms. Linder said.) The next step, they said, is to fill in some of the data gaps and make more detailed assessments of the riskier practices.
“These threats are there, whether we turn on the lights and confront them or continue to feel comfortable in the dark,” Ms. Linder said.