Coronavirus: China must stamp out markets where wild animals are sold then killed– Steve Cardownie

Attitudes in China are changing with 80 per cent of people in Beijing opposed to wildlife meat markets, writes Steve Cardownie

A butcher wears a protective mask as she works in her stall at a local market in China's capital Beijing (Picture: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
A butcher wears a protective mask as she works in her stall at a local market in China's capital Beijing (Picture: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

Whilst not yet ­confirmed, it is thought that the source of the coronavirus (Covid-19) was a ‘wet market’ in Wuhan, China, which also illegally sold live animals which were butchered on the spot, usually with the same implement being used to despatch different species.

This practice poses a high risk of viruses jumping from animals to humans as the hygiene standards are effectively compromised. The original source of the current virus is thought to have come from bats which, although not on offer at the Wuhan market, may have infected live chickens or other animals which have then entered the human food chain.

Having been to China on more than one occasion, I witnessed first hand the variety of animal produce and seafood that was sold in markets although I never visited a wildlife market as opposed to wet markets, which are, more often than not, more akin to farmer’s markets here and which sell fresh seafood, meat, fruit, vegetables, noodles etc rather than wildlife.

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Last year Shanghai had almost 1,000 of these markets operating within its boundaries which thrive on the locals’ like of fresh as opposed to packaged foods.

However, in response to the coronavirus outbreak the authorities acted last month and slapped a strict ban on the consumption and farming of wild animals across China, recognising that the wildlife industry had to be brought under strict control if it is to prevent another viral outbreak of the kind we are now witnessing.

Many commentators believe that it will not be easy, however, citing a report by the Chinese Academy of Engineering, sponsored by the government, which estimated that China’s wildlife trade was worth more than $17 billion and employed more than one million people.

Nevertheless, since the outbreak in December last year nearly 20,000 wildlife farms have been closed down or put under quarantine in an attempt to limit, and or extinguish, this cruel trade.

Recent studies have also suggested that the mood regarding the ­consumption of wildlife is changing, with researchers finding that 52 per cent of total respondents opposed the practice, rising to 80 per cent in Beijing.

There have also been repeated calls for a crackdown on the trade in exotic animals, with public statements being issued by 19 academics from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, calling for an end to the trade stating that it should be treated as a public safety issue.

The National People’s Congress will meet later this year to officially alter the Wildlife Protection Law as the current ban is only a temporary measure until the new law comes into force – although the effectiveness of any new legislation will ultimately hinge on the Chinese government’s determination to stamp the trade out.

Although China is under an unwanted spotlight, the trade in unusual animal fare for human consumption – much of which is normally perfectly safe – is by no means confined to that country.

Take, for instance, the United States where you can eat Southern Fried Rattlesnake, or escamoles from Mexico (ant larvae), with guinea pig regularly eaten in South America. In Australia, witchetty grubs are consumed along with kangaroo meat.

Whilst China may have taken the consumption of strange and, in particular, exotic animal produce to a different level, drastic action has been demanded to prevent the sale and butchering of wildlife and the probability that another virus is only a matter of when, not if!