Harvard researchers say US may be vulnerable to zoonoses, NYU

Scientists from New York and Harvard universities say that the United States’ wildlife policy is not enough to protect against diseases that can be transmitted between animals and humans.

According to a recent editorial by scientists at New York University and Harvard University, current biosecurity laws in the United States may not be enough to prevent the spread of zoonoses that are spread between animals and humans. An editorial published in Science Magazine, causes concern for government agencies failure to regulate wildlife policies and discusses past cases of animal-to-human disease transmission in the United States.

The piece contradicts the US government’s National Biosecurity Strategy, which was published in October 2022 and did not include a new policy to prevent zoonotic diseases. In the article, Dale Jamison, a professor at New York University’s Center for the Environment and Animal Welfare, and Ann Linder, a research fellow at the Harvard Clinic for Animal Law and Policy, argued that the United States is ignoring potential zoonosis threats.

“One of the things that happens when you have a crisis or a potential crisis is that you sometimes see how broken our systems are in responding to them,” Jamieson told WSN. “You have different agencies that don’t really know what the other agencies are doing, and half of the cross-cutting mandates, and in some cases, huge regulatory gaps.”

They noted that the United States has a history of zoonotic diseases — most of which originated in the country between 1950 and 2000 — and that it has the largest volume of wildlife imports in the world, but the animals often fail health and safety checks upon arrival. They also said the government mandates of many federal regulatory agencies, particularly the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are unclear and can be restrictive.

In October DOA announced that it will open a new laboratory called the National Center for Biological and Agricultural Protection, which will allow the agency to conduct research on zoonoses that require additional safeguards against potential laboratory disease outbreaks. Lisa Hensley, a zoonoses researcher at the lab, said it would help ensure the safety of the food supply in the United States.

“As a community, we haven’t paid enough attention to the risks of animal-to-human, human-to-animal, or animal-to-animal transmission of viruses,” Hensley said. “The safety of our food supply is an incredible vulnerability for our public health and the health of agriculture, and we need to be proactive in this area.”

Jamieson also said the lack of regulation in livestock is dangerous because of how dependent the United States is on livestock for food. According to the editors, only in 2022 he processed more than 10 billion animals. In the article, Jamieson expressed concern about the continued spread of avian flu viruses among livestock in the United States, which he said have reached poultry markets and farms.

“Agencies need to not just do their jobs better or close gaps, but fundamentally restructure the way they manage human-animal interactions,” Jamieson and Linder wrote. “The US is still a long way from taking such decisive action or even acknowledging its responsibility for creating these global risks.”

Contact Uji Batla at [email protected]

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