UN biodiversity chief calls for international ban of ‘wet markets’

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The United Nations’s acting head of biodiversity is calling for a global prohibition of so-called wet markets where live and dead wild animals are kept in cages and sold for human consumption. 

Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, the acting executive secretary of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, told The Guardian in an interview published Monday that “the message we are getting is if we don’t take care of nature, it will take care of us.” 

The comments came as officials around the world ramp up their calls for countries such as China to crack down on wildlife markets that are believed to play a leading role in the spread of infectious diseases. Experts believe the novel coronavirus first appeared in a wet market in Wuhan, China, known for selling exotic game alongside more common animals. 

COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, has since spread to dozens of countries and infected more than 1 million people, including more than 320,000 individuals in the U.S., according to a Johns Hopkins University database

Mrema cautioned that simply banning wet markets would not fully solve the problem, noting that many communities around the world are dependent on wild animals to sustain their livelihoods. 

“It would be good to ban the live animal markets as China has done and some countries. But we should also remember you have communities, particularly from low-income rural areas, particularly in Africa, which are dependent on wild animals to sustain the livelihoods of millions of people,” she said. 

Mrema added that a ban on these markets may help promote “illegal trade in wild animals” if no clear alternative is in place. 

“We need to look at how we balance that and really close the hole of illegal trade in the future,” she said. 

In the U.S., Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has led the calls for China to keep its wet markets closed. Earlier this month, he called on Senate lawmakers to sign on to a letter he sent to the Chinese ambassador to the U.S. “urging the immediate closure of these wet markets for the safety of the world at large.”

He argued in a series of tweets earlier this month that “bringing wild and exotic animals to open markets to interact with humans and other food supplies is both crazy and dangerous.”

Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert, echoed those comments, saying last week that the novel coronavirus was a “direct result” of unsanitary marketplaces. 

“It boggles my mind how, when we have so many diseases that emanate out of that unusual human-animal interface, that we don’t just shut it down,” he said on “Fox & Friends.” “I don’t know what else has to happen to get us to appreciate that.”

Jinfeng Zhou, secretary general of the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation, has also said that an international ban on wet markets would “help a lot on wildlife conservation and protection of ourselves from improper contacts with wildlife.”

Tags Anthony Fauci Coronavirus Lindsey Graham Wet market wildlife

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