China must close down 'wet markets' now

As the world gets smaller and populations travel with speed around the world, it is time that the world focus on the domestic food laws in countries like China and others that are not up to the standards of health, safety and welfare — for their own populations and those beyond their borders.

The current COVID-19 crisis was born out of people who worked and shopped at a “wet market” in Wuhan, China. A wet market sells live and dead animals —including fish, birds, badgers, bats, pangolins (scaly anteaters), and turtles — for human consumption. These markets are wet. Water splashes over the sides of open tubs filled with live sea animals that will inevitably be killed; countertops and floors are streaked red with the insides of gutted fish and the blood of slaughtered animals.

China is notorious for lack of hygiene and government oversight of their domestic wet markets. There are separate rules in China for food commodities for export and those for local consumption. The only problem with this duplicity is that it keeps neither their people safe nor those beyond their borders.

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In recent years we have seen an alarming uptick in deadly viruses emerging from human contact with live animals.

The deadliest viruses emerged from human contact with live animals:

China’s domestic demand and customs for exotic and live food are a direct threat to the health, safety and welfare of the world. We can no longer allow China’s domestic actions — and inaction — to threaten the world health and economy.

National Geographic reports that the Chinese government allows 54 wild species to be bred on farms and sold for consumption, including minks, ostriches, hamsters, snapping turtles, and Siamese crocodiles. Many wild animals, such as snakes and birds of prey, are poached and brought to state-licensed farms, says Zhou Jinfeng, secretary-general of the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation, an NGO in Beijing that helped with the bird rescue in September. Zhou said some farmers claim that their animals were bred legally in captivity for conservation but then sell them to markets or collectors.

It’s unknown how many live wildlife markets exist in China, but experts estimate they could number in the hundreds.

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Some department and big-box stores also sell wild meat and live amphibians for consumption. For market buyers, frogs are a common and inexpensive wildlife dish, says Peter Li, China policy specialist at Humane Society International and professor in East Asian politics at the University of Houston-Downtown. On the high end, Li says, only the rich can afford soup made with palm civet (a cat-size mammal native to jungles throughout Southeast Asia), fried cobra, or braised bear paw.

Such food was not part of Li’s experience growing up. “My parents never cooked wild animals, and [we’ve] never eaten them. I’ve never had snake — much less cobra.”

China is a dictatorship. They could end wet markets tomorrow if they wanted. The fact they allow them to exist is unconscionable.

China has no regard for the individual. It is all about the perpetuation of the State.

When China’s domestic governance threatens the world, that’s when the world needs to change China’s domestic policies.

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The United States — the country now most affected by COVID-19 — must demand China make institutional changes in their domestic food safety policies to help eliminate the threat of pandemic. How many more animal-born viruses must we fall victim to before we demand that China and others stop the behavior that most often causes them?

China cannot be trusted. We must form an international coalition to investigate China’s food safety and health protocols, reporting and prevention. And, we must also call for the immediate closures of all “wet markets” and enforce severe penalties for those who deal with the sale of wild animals that are known to spread illness.

Bradley A. Blakeman was a deputy assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2004. A principal of the 1600 Group, a strategic communications firm, he is an adjunct professor of public policy and international affairs at Georgetown University and a frequent guest on Fox News and Fox Business.