Imagine we live in a world that when a pharmaceutical company creates a new drug it doesn’t have to test it in the lab, it doesn’t need to do human trials and it doesn’t need regulatory approval; it is simply manufactured and then legally sold.
Once on the market the drug appears to have some terrible side effects and consequences. The groups concerned about the negative effects of this new drug on human lives must scrape together funding, from donors, to undertake research to show their concerns are valid. Each year data is collected from all regions of the world highlighting the negative side effects of the drug together with the number of direct and indirect deaths associated with the drug. This is done for each demographic who uses the drug, including: men, women, children and teens, senior citizens, pregnant women, people with a disability, people with mental health issues etc.
When these concerned parties present their findings about the negative effects of the drug, they are challenged to provide evidence upon evidence upon evidence to back up their concerns, yet the pharmaceutical company isn’t held to the same standards to provide evidence that the drug is safe.
Imagine further that the system that monitors the volume of trade and distribution of this drug (and all drugs) is a paper-based, doesn’t integrate with customs, has been reviewed once in 45 years (in 1994) and has been constantly shown to have flaws that you can drive a Mack Truck through.
On top of this, everyone gets together to review what has been happening in the trade only once every three years. Trends on the negative side-effects of the drug and the mortality rates are tabled. There are clear indications that the trade in this drug is not safe for humans, but the only result is that another 3 years of research is requested, before a decision may be made to stop selling the drug – the can is once again kicked down the road. Add to this, imagine there are 38,000 drugs listed for sale (38,000 endangered species are listed under CITES for trade restrictions) and the above needs to be done for every demographic and in every region of the world.
Would society let human lives be treated in this way? Would we give the pharmaceutical industry unrestricted ability to trade (or maybe have some minimal restrictions on trade) until, after decades of research demonstrating the drug is unsafe to the human population, researchers stand up and clap with relief (which is what happened when pangolins were listed on CITES Appendix 1) when, once-and-for-all, we finally get agreement to ban the trade in this drug?
Again, I ask the question, would we be willing to compromise people’s safety and survival in this way? No, of course we wouldn’t, because it would be a ridiculous approach, right? But we accept this very system for the trade in endangered species.
While the pharmaceutical industry has to apply the precautionary principle, paying for years of research up front (which is a reverse listing approach by the way), to show that a drug is safe for human consumption, in contrast, the default for the world’s endangered wildlife and plants is trade first until it is proven to have severe, negative consequences for the survival of the species.