US politicians call for shutdown of wet markets in China

A group of more than 60 U.S. senators and representatives have signed a letter calling for China and other countries to shut down so-called “wet markets” where live wild animals are sold for human consumption.

Wet markets are found in many cities in China, and often feature seafood and other animals being sold alive to customers. A wet market in Wuhan is believed to have been the source of the COVID-19 virus that has killed more than 100,000 people globally since December 2019.

The letter, sent on 8 April to the leaders of the World Health Organization, the World Organisation for Animal Health, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, calls for the organization to take steps to halt trading of live wild animals in wet markets.

“While China has banned the trade and consumption of wild animals in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, there are significant loopholes relating to the current legal trade of wildlife for medicinal purposes. China took similar steps after the 2003 SARS outbreak, but ultimately lifted the restrictions after the outbreak came under control and perceived risk decreased,” it said. “As leaders of organizations tasked with ensuring human and animal health, we urge you to work with member states to ensure that live wildlife markets are closed permanently in all countries and that the international trade of live wildlife not intended for conservation purposes is banned.”

Separately, a letter signed by a group of U.S. senators from both parties calling on China to immediately close all operating wet markets was sent on 9 April to Chinese Ambassador Cui Tiankai, according to Fox News. The letter said the markets should be closed because they are not subject to "standardized sanitary or health inspection processes.”

“It is well documented that wet markets in China have been the source of a number of worldwide health problems, and their operation should cease immediately so as to protect the Chinese people and the international community from additional health risks,” the letter said. “We understand and respect that wet markets are an important component to Chinese society and way of life, but we believe the current moment, which has disrupted everyday life around the world, calls for extreme precautions.”

Earlier in April, U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, penned a separate letter to the WHO asking it to push for stricter controls beyond China’s recently enacted temporary ban on the trade and consumption of non-aquatic wild animals, and the permanent closure of wet markets that have reopened since the ban was put into place.

“I share the concerns of many in the conservation community that this ban does not go far enough,” McCaul said. “The policy does not ban the trade of wild animals for fur, medicine, or research, and I believe that these loopholes may be exploited to illegally sell or trade these animals."

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison agreed, calling the reopening of wet markets in China “unfathomable,” according to the Associated Press.

“We need to protect the world against potential sources of outbreaks of these types of viruses,” Morrison said. “It’s happened too many times. I’m totally puzzled by this decision.”

Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, Chinese consumers were beginning to shift away from wet markets for their seafood purchases, citing superior hygienic practices of supermarkets. That shift has accelerated since the coronavirus outbreak.

Photo courtesy of Lewis Tse Pui Lung/Shutterstock


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