Coronavirus outbreak prompts NGOs to seek permanent ban on China’s wildlife markets

Published on
February 4, 2020

As the coronavirus outbreak intensifies, sustainability NGOs Friend of the Sea and Friend of the Earth are calling on the Chinese government to ban wildlife food markets for good – as a means to prevent the incubation and spread of similar illnesses as well as to conserve natural resources.

The novel coronavirus is believed to have originated in a wildlife food market in China’s Wuhan province in December 2019, and has infected more than 20,000 Chinese citizens as of Tuesday, 4 February, according to the country’s health officials. Beyond China, nine countries or regions around the world have reported cases of coronavirus, including Japan and the United States. So far, the virus has killed over 427 people, with 425 of the mortalities occurring in China, according to statistics shared by NPR.

In light of the outbreak and given the environmental damage associated with China’s wildlife food markets, Friend of the Earth and Friend of the Sea have decided to petition the country’s government to make permanent its temporary ban on wild animal trading.

“We applaud China’s decision to place a short-term ban wildlife trading, but the ban should be forever,” Friend of the Earth Director Paolo Bray said. “The ban should include not only wet markets, but supermarkets restaurants and e-commerce platforms. Wild animals belong in nature.”  

All of the signatures that the NGOs collect through the petition will be sent to the Chinese government with suggestions that the country “become the world’s new wildlife conservation leader,” the organizations said in a press release.

A zoonotic disease, coronavirus can be transmitted from animals to humans – the latest outbreak is thought to be from a snake sold in Wuhan for consumption. Dogs, turtles, bats, snakes, giant salamanders, crocodiles, hedgehogs, and marmots are some of the wildlife types sold at these wet markets.

Seafood Expo North America organizer Diversified Communications is monitoring the breadth and state of the outbreak, it announced on 31 January. As of 4 February, the expo – slated to take place from 15 to 17 March at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center (BCEC) in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A. – is expected to go ahead as planned.

“Diversified Communications has been responding to public safety situations for many years and has an effective crisis management protocol in place,” Diversified Communications Seafood Group Vice President Liz Plizga told SeafoodSource. “We have great confidence in our partnerships with the cities and local authorities where our events take place, and we will continue to update our customers on new developments. We look forward to a safe and successful event.”

“The situation has not impacted attendee registration and exhibitor participation at the expo,” Diversified added. “We are following the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We are also working with the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority (MCCA), and appropriate authorities on recommended protocols to protect our customers and attendees while at the expo.”

Meanwhile, China’s seafood industry and those that do business in the market are reeling from the outbreak. Dan Harris, an attorney at the Harris Bricken law firm, told SeafoodSource that both exporters to China and importers of processed products from Chinese suppliers are concerned about the impact coronavirus could have on sales.

“Coronavirus likely will constitute a force majeure [a clause included in contracts to remove liability for natural and unavoidable catastrophes] for your Chinese counter-parties and this will mean they can breach their contracts with you without much if any legal repercussion,” Harris said. “This also likely means some Chinese companies that are not yet truly impacted by the coronavirus will seek to use the virus as a basis for terminating or breaching or revising their contract with you.”

Vietnam’s government and seafood exporters are also worried about what the outbreak could mean for the global trade of its agro-forestry-fisheries products, including seafood. On 29 January, the Import-Export Department of Vietnam’s Ministry of Industry and Trade noted that while the coronavirus outbreak has yet to have a significant impact on the import and export activities between Vietnam and China, trade has started slowing in certain sectors.

“However, information from China indicates that demand of some agricultural products in China has started to slow due to the complicated development of the epidemic. Due to strict anti-epidemic measures, transportation of goods between provinces and cities across China has become extremely difficult,” the Vietnamese department said.

Photo courtesy of Robert Wei/Shutterstock

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