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Trade deals must not make UK complicit in raising risk of new pandemics – WWF

Intensive farming has helped create the conditions for pandemics, according to the non-governmental organisation WWF, the World Wide Fund for Nature
Emily Beament (PA)

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 has warned.

A new report from the conservation charity said the destruction of forests and other natural habitats and intensive farming are creating perfect conditions for another pandemic to emerge.

Covid-19 and other recent epidemics such as HIV, Sars and Ebola are "zoonotic" diseases which can be traced back to viruses that leap from animals to people, and the risk of wildlife and humans coming into contact with each other is on the rise, WWF warned.

Unsustainable food systems are driving large-scale conversion of land from forests and savanna to agriculture, in particular to meet increased demand for meat and dairy, the report said.

This encroachment is putting pressure on natural resources and bringing people, livestock and wildlife closer together, pushing up the chance of diseases moving from wild animals to humans. The illegal trade in wildlife, low food standards and intensive livestock farming can also facilitate outbreaks and rapid spread of diseases.

The modern globalised world means an increasing probability new diseases can become devastating pandemics, with serious impacts on health, livelihoods, the economy and food security, the report said.

Calling for "strong legislation" on trade deals, WWF said UK efforts to strike new trade agreements risked not only driving down food and environmental standards of imported products, but also being complicit in future pandemics unless the deals help reverse habitat destruction and ensure a move to sustainable farming globally.

"We need to work at every level with nature, not against it, to prevent another global health crisis," chief executive Tanya Steele said.

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