The UK will be “complicit” in increasing the risk of future pandemics if post-Brexit trade deals do not protect nature and support sustainable farming, WWF have warned.
A new report details how the destruction of natural habitats and intensive farming are creating the perfect conditions for further pandemics.
Covid-19 and other recent epidemics such as HIV, Sars and Ebola are “zoonotic” diseases which leap from animals to people and the risk of wildlife and humans coming into contact with each other is on the rise, WWF warned. They identify the consumption and trade of wildlife and intensive farming as the two key drivers of new zoonotic diseases.
Trade deals could increase risk
Sustain has raised concerns about the future of our health, the environment and farming busineses if we strike trade deals which allow food produced with lower welfare or environmental standards (currently banned by EU law) to be imported.
This report raises fresh concerns about deals to be struck in the next few months because they could pave the way for an increase in the kind of farming which facilitates the outbreak and rapid spread of diseases.These include:
- Conversion of forests and other ecosystems to farmland, causing habitat fragmentation and biodiversity loss. Both damage the health of wild animals and make them succeptible to disease. The most rapid conversion globally is for beef, soy and palm oil.
- Intensive livestock farming with poor standards for animal hisbandry and health can facilitate the rapid spread of disease because of the proximity of animals to each other.
The charity is calling on International Trade Secretary Liz Truss and Environment Secretary George Eustice to enshrine in law requirements that imports to the UK meet the highest standards, including efforts to make sure products and supply chains are not driving habitat destruction overseas.
Tanya Steele, chief executive at WWF-UK, said: “We cannot be complicit in increasing the risk of the next pandemic.
“We need strong legislation and trade deals that stop us importing food that is the result of rampant deforestation or whose production ignores poor welfare and environmental standards in producer countries.
“The Government has a golden opportunity to make transformative, world-leading change happen and ensure a green and just recovery.”
“We need to work at every level with nature, not against it, to prevent another global health crisis,”
At the international level, the Covid-19: Urgent Call to Protect People and Nature report is calling for governments to commit to a “new deal for nature and people” that halts and reverses the loss of nature.
WWF is also calling for an end to land conversion, deforestation and habitat fragmentation, while sustainably feeding a growing global population, as well as a halt to the high-risk illegal wildlife trade and more enforcement to prevent wildlife trafficking.
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