At some point, we’ll be able to look back on this pandemic. It will be interesting to see what long-term changes occur. Memory and motivation for change are often surprisingly limited, but I’m sure we’ll exit this with a least a few changes to how we live, work and play – and in some areas, how we eat.
There’s been a lingering question for a while about wildlife markets. The COVID-19 virus, like the SARS virus before it (and other emerging diseases), is believed to have made the jump to people via animal markets that included myriad wild and domestic animal species (and their products). The more contact we have with different animal species, especially wild animals that don’t usually have contact with people, and the more we enter their habitats, the greater the risk of exposure to novel pathogens. The majority of emerging diseases are zoonotic diseases (originating in animals). It’s not a matter of whether there’s another disease lingering out there is wild animal populations, it’s a matter of when the next one will reach the human population and how much impact it will have.
China has come under a lot of pressure to ban wet markets, or extend the temporary ban that was put in place at the start of the outbreak. I’d like to see them closed for a variety of reasons, but we have to recognize the cultural, economic and food security issues that are present. A recent National Post article highlighted the importance of these disputed wet markets in China, including the following quote:
“Banning wet markets is not only going to be impossible, but will also be destructive for urban food security in China as they play such a pivotal role in ensuring urban residents’ access to affordable and healthy food,” said Dr. Zhenzhong Si, a research associate at the University of Waterloo who studies food security in China.
We also have to realize that banning something can just drive it underground, which can actually make things worse. My assumption was that we’d see more regulation of these markets, and that may be the plan in China.
A CNN article reports that China has issues a new draft list of animals that can be farmed for meat. Restricting farming to certain species doesn’t necessarily impact wet markets if live wild animals can still be caught and brought into these densely crowded (animal and human) spaces, so it will be interesting to see the impact of the new proposed rules if they are finalized. This draft also includes a few major shifts for farming in China.
The list of animals that can be farmed obviously includes the typical food animal species (e.g. pigs, cows, chickens, sheep), and has a few others that are not too surprising (e.g. deer, ostriches). It allows farming of raccoons and mink for fur, but not meat. Particularly noteworthy is that dogs are NOT included on the list. I don’t have an English translation yet, but the CNN article includes this quote from an “accompanying explanation” of the draft list:
“With the progress of human civilization and the public’s concern and preference for animal protection, dogs have evolved from traditional livestock to companion animals… …They are generally no longer regarded as livestock in the rest of the world. It is not advisable to list them under livestock or poultry in China.”
That’s quite a shift.
The potential impact depends on the draft actually being finalized and enforced, while preventing the dog meat trade from going underground, but it’s encouraging. The impact also depends on this policy actually controlling the wild animal trade, and not just closing down large markets where people get food. Wild animal trade also includes catching animals for use in traditional medicine, entertainment or fur/fashion trade. Any time we encounter something in the wild and bring it back to a village, town, city or market, we create a new contact point between people and wildlife, and each one is a risk.
We can’t expect an overnight change, and there will probably lots of loopholes, but this may be a step in the right direction.