On World Health Day animal groups calls for ban on ‘wet markets’

Animal protection organisations are using World Health Day on Tuesday to call for a global ban on wild animal markets, which they say pose a serious risk to human health.

In these so-called wet markets, many species of wild animals are kept together in small cages under stressful and unhygienic conditions to be slaughtered on site.

Residents wearing face mask buy seafood at a wet market in China.Credit:Getty Images

Although the origins of COVID-19 are still unknown, scientists suspect it originated in a market in Wuhan, China, and passed to humans from bats via another species, possibly a pangolin.

Among the calls for a ban is a letter by 241 organisations across the globe to the World Health Organisation  "to publicly and unequivocally state the proven link between these markets and serious threats to human health".

"In line with its stated mission to serve public health at all times, we urge the WHO to recommend that governments worldwide permanently ban live wildlife markets and the use of wildlife in traditional medicine," the letter says.

"This decisive action, well within the WHO's mandate, would be an impactful first step in adopting a highly precautionary approach to wildlife trade that poses a risk to human health."

Wildlife on sale for human consumption at a wet market in Indonesia.Credit:Dog Meat Free Indonesia

Among the signatories are groups such as Humane Society International (HSI) and Four Paws, which have offices in Australia.

In addition, HSI has released its own paper, Wildlife Markets and Covid-19, calling on governments to take immediate action to ban wildlife markets, trade, transport and consumption for all purposes.

Such bans should include both wild-caught and captive-bred wildlife, it says.

It also calls for mechanisms to help those whose livelihoods are based on the wildlife trade.

"Animal-based diseases (zoonoses) account for an estimated 73 per cent of all emerging infectious diseases affecting humans," the paper says.

"Wildlife markets of the type linked to both SARS and COVID-19 … provide ideal circumstances for the spread of zoonoses. These include diseases caused by coronaviruses transferred to humans through a range of intermediate host species."

About 10 million dogs and cats are brutally slaughtered for consumption in Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia every year, Katherine Polak, veterinarian and head of Four Paws Stray Animal Care in south-east Asia said.

"The rampant trade and live animal markets are ticking time bombs. If governments do not act now and shut down these cruel markets, we are not protecting ourselves against the next global pandemic," she said.

China has been making some moves to close down its markets because of the COVID-19 loss of life as well as damage to its economy and reputation.

'If governments do not act now and shut down these cruel markets, we are not protecting ourselves against the next global pandemic.'

On January 23, three administrative agencies under the Chinese premier jointly issued a ban on trade and consumption of wildlife, Peter Li, China policy specialist at HSI said.

But this ban was contradictory to the Wildlife Protection Law that allowed the use of wild animals for breeding and commercial purposes, Dr Li said.

On February 24, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress elevated the ban to the level of national legislation by imposing a comprehensive ban on the trade and consumption of wildlife by temporarily freezing the Wildlife Protection Law.

The ban only applies to the consumption of wildlife as food.

It does apply to some farmed wildlife but not all. It also does not wildlife consumed for all purposes. For example it does not include consumption for traditional medicine or the fur or exotic pet trade, Dr Li said.

But for the ban to become permanent, the People's Congress still needs to amend the Wildlife Protection Law, he said.

Last Friday, Anthony Fauci, head of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Fox News's Fox & Friends the world community should pressure China and other nations that run "wet markets" to shut them down, The Washington Post reported.

"[They] should shut down those things right away," he said. "It just boggles my mind that how when we have so many diseases that emanate out of that unusual human-animal interface that we don't just shut it down. I don't know what else has to happen to get us to appreciate that. I think there are certain countries in which this is very commonplace. I would like to see the rest of the world really lean with a lot of pressure on those countries that have that, because what we're going through right now is a direct result of that."

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