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Thank you COVID19. China Bans Consumption of Wild Animals as Food

A man chops and cleans crocodiles at Huangsha Seafood Market in Guangzhou in southern China in 2018. Photo: EPA

PortandTerminal.com, February 25, 2020

China on Monday finally declared an immediate and ‘comprehensive’ ban on the trade and consumption of wild animals, a practice believed responsible for the deadly coronavirus outbreak. But will they be able to enforce it?

BEIJING – Could the coronavirus, aka COVID19, be the best thing to happen for the protection of the world’s wildlife?

China said it will ban the trade and consumption of wild animals, a multibillion-dollar industry that employs millions of people, as part of efforts to curb virus outbreaks.

The Covid-19 epidemic that has killed more than 2,500 people in China and spread overseas has been linked to wild animals carrying a coronavirus and sold in markets for food. Most researchers believe the virus jumped from a market animal to a human host, mutated and then infected others.

Asia market trader chopping wildlife meat in a red plastic bucket
Most researchers believe the virus jumped from a market animal to a human host, mutated and then infected others.

Some of the earliest infections of coronavirus, or COVID19, were found in people who had exposure to Wuhan’s seafood market, where bats, snakes, civets and other wildlife were sold. China temporarily shut down all such markets in January, warning that eating wild animals posed a threat to public health and safety.

“Since the Covid-19 outbreak, the eating of wild animals and the huge hidden threat to public health from the practice have attracted wide attention,” the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress said, state broadcaster CCTV reported on Monday. The fast-track decision prohibited the consumption of wild animals and included a crackdown on the illegal wildlife trade to protect public health, the report said, adding that the ban took effect immediately. 

The WHO says 70 per cent of global disease-causing pathogens discovered in the past 50 years came from animals.

Now the question becomes whether the Chinese government will be able to enforce the ban. There is both a financial and cultural aspect to the trade in wild animals in China

Up until now, the breeding and trading of wild animals in China is supported by the government and is a source of profit for many people.

“I’d like to sell once the ban is lifted,” said Gong Jian, who runs a wildlife store online and operates shops in China’s autonomous Inner Mongolia region. “People like buying wildlife. They buy for themselves to eat or give as presents because it is very presentable and gives you face.”

The economic side of the challenge

China’s wildlife trade and consumption industry is valued at 520 billion yuan (US$74 billion) and employs more than 14 million people, according to a government-sponsored report published by the Chinese Academy of Engineering in 2017.

READ: Smugglers from China bringing in invasive crabs into U.S. for huge profit

Much of the farming and sale of wildlife takes place in rural or poorer regions under the blessing of local authorities who see trading as a boost for the local economy. State-backed television programs regularly show people farming animals, including rats, for commercial sale and their own consumption.

READ: ‘Animals live for man’: China’s appetite for wildlife likely to survive virus

The cultural side of the challenge

And then there is the demand side of the problem to be tackled. Many people in China like to consume wild animals whether as food or as part of traditional medicine.

Bowl of stew with a whole pangolin
Pangolin stew. Scientists suspect, but have not proven, that the new coronavirus passed to humans from bats via pangolins, a small ant-eating mammal whose scales are highly prized in traditional Chinese medicine.

Environmentalists and wildlife conservationists welcomed the decision, though other commentators said the government would need to give financial aid to companies running breeding farms for such animals.

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