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Gaia demands ban on wildlife markets

20:23 07/05/2020
From Flanders Today

As Winston Churchill famously said: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Belgian animal welfare organisation Gaia, together with partners worldwide, is calling on international institutions to draw lessons from the corona crisis and work towards a global ban on wildlife markets.

Although it’s not definitively proven, most scientists believe the corona pandemic originated at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan. The Covid-19 virus probably jumped from a bat to a pangolin, and then made the leap to humans.

It’s by no means the first time that a live animal market appears to be the source of a virus outbreak. The SARS virus, which caused an epidemic in 2002-03, is thought to have come from a Chinese market like the one in Wuhan.

The spread of the Ebola virus in Africa was similarly linked to the sale of bushmeat. Markets selling wildlife meat are common in China and other Asian countries, as well as in many African and Latin American countries.

More than enough reason for animal welfare organisations such as Gaia to demand a worldwide ban on such markets. The campaign, including a petition, actually calls for a closure of “wet markets”, but that’s not entirely accurate. The term wet markets refers to food markets that sell fresh products, like meat and produce (and not “dry” packaged goods), but they don’t necessarily include the sale of wild animals.

Specifically, Gaia is calling on the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the European Union to take drastic measures to abolish the sale of wildlife in food markets.

“We have to use this tragic crisis to tackle the roots of such pandemics, otherwise we will be confronted with similar outbreaks ever more often,” says Michel Vandenbosch, Gaia’s director. “The interests of humans and animals really line up perfectly in this case. Not only do these wildlife markets not meet basic hygiene and food safety standards, they are also horrific places where animals endure deplorable living conditions and are often slaughtered in a truly cruel manner.” 

Vandenbosch says he feels backed up by Anthony Fauci, a key figure on the United States’ coronavirus task force, who recently told reporters that he didn’t understand why these markets were not just shut down. “We have so many diseases that emanate out of that unusual human-animal interface,” said Fauci.

China did take action and officially banned the country’s trade in wildlife in February, with the exception of sales for medicinal purposes. “The question is how long this ban will last,” says Vandenbosch. “There is a danger that we will go back to business as usual after the worst of this crisis is over.”

Some experts, however, argue that a ban on wildlife can be counterproductive, as it may force such markets underground, where they can’t be monitored. Vandenbosch acknowledges the risk, but feels it’s up to the government to make sure such illegal trade cannot flourish.

It seems that public opinion among China’s neighbours also favours a clampdown. A recent survey by the World Wildlife Fund showed that 93% of 5,000 respondents spread over Hong Kong, Japan, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam supported government action to restrict unregulated wildlife markets.

Gaia’s campaign also focuses on the abolishment of long-distance cattle transport in the EU, arguing that this practice is not only detrimental to the animals’ health and well-being, but can also contribute to the spread of viruses. According to Vandenbosch, the EU should make a priority of passing regulation that only allows the transport of meat and not of live animals.

Gaia condemns the European Commission’s decision to keep allowing cross-border cattle transports during the corona crisis. “Because of new border checks, huge numbers of animals are stuck in vehicles at borders of different countries, without much regard for their well-being,” states Vandenbosch. “In the short term, we are asking that they forbid the transport of live animals that takes longer than eight hours.”

Vandenbosch also thinks that this crisis shows the general dangers of the industrial cattle industry, in which large numbers of animals are crowded together indoors. He also refers to the cattle markets in Belgium as places where in the past serious problems concerning animal welfare were detected. “This is the time for drastic action, so that at least something good comes out of this crisis.”

Gaia recently also launched a hotline (0800/533 35) to call for people who have questions  about the impact of the corona crisis on their pets

Photos ©Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals

Written by Andy Furniere (Flanders Today)