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Closing Wet Markets is a matter of Public Health

The cause of the world's current problem was initially believed to be the continued use of the so-called "wet markets" in Wuhan. At first, there were concerns that the virus had been spread from the consumption of snake meat. Scientists later suggested that it had come from undercooked bat.

Chinese authorities have already shut down wild animal traders, on the fear that their goods sparked the coronavirus pandemic. Yet now, officials are offering tax incentives to the multibillion-dollar animal-products industry to ship some of these animal products overseas. If the virus was spread from the consumption of either bat or endangered pangolin, then why should we allow China to continue to export these goods?

We know the risks of eating nondomesticated animals. The Ebola epidemic in West Africa a few years ago was similarly a result of the consumption of wild animals. The eating of so-called "bush meat," such as small monkeys and bats, was the cause of the transfer of the virus from animals to humans. The same was true of the of HIV and AIDS in the early 2000s, when it was widely reported in American medical journals that new strands of the virus had come from bush meat in Africa.

And if the human cost of the continued consumption of such products isn’t enough, then let’s look at the animal welfare side of the issue. These markets fuel the continued poaching and illegal hunting of endangered animals in both Africa and Asia. Tigers, rhinos, elephants, and pangolins are all hunted for the purpose of fueling a growing demand in China for so-called "traditional medicine."

We must take a firm stand against the way that China continues to disregard the sanctity of human life and the natural world around us. As with China’s human rights violations, we should be calling out its record on the treatment of animals as well.

A new demand of future trade relations with China should not just be that human rights are defended, but that they end the reckless practices surrounding "traditional medicine" and wet markets. In both cases, they cause more damage than good, and in both cases, they put human lives at risk. There is no evidence that Chinese traditional medicines work, just as there is no evidence that eating bat soup or pangolin meat is safe.

This is no longer just a matter of protecting our beliefs or economic interests whilst trading with China, but also about protecting public health.