China Bans Consumption of Wild Animals as Food
Authorities in China have announced tough new measures, including an unprecedented ban on the consumption of wild animals as food, aimed at reducing the risks to public health from infectious viruses.
The new measures come amid growing public concern about the spread and impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the consumption of wild animals. A seafood market also illegally selling wildlife in the Chinese city of Wuhan is widely considered the epicentre of the current coronavirus outbreak.
Authorities in China have undertaken a whole suite of measures aimed at preventing the virus’s spread, including the announcement on January 26 of a temporary ban on all wildlife trade in the country.
Today’s announcement on the state-run Xinhua news agency takes the measures against wild animal trade further and followed a meeting of the Standing Committee to the 13th National People's Congress.
Specific measures, which have been introduced with immediate effect, include:
• A ban on the consumption as food of all terrestrial wild animals from both wild and captive breeding sources.
• Stricter enforcement of China’s Wild Animal Protection Law and other relevant legislation prohibiting the hunting, catching, trading, transporting and eating of wild animals.
• Defining which animals qualify as being considered as livestock and poultry.
• Defining the special circumstances under which wild animals may be used for purposes other than consumption as food, such as for scientific research, medical use and display.
• Awareness campaigns on ecological protection and public health and safety.
• Commitments to implement the new measures, with appropriate assistance to producers impacted by the new measures.
The NGO TRAFFIC commends China on the measures, saying it hopes that strong enforcement of laws to regulate imports and the marketplace will also help address critical conservation threats to wildlife species suffering illegal and unsustainable trade. TRAFFIC’s Executive Director, Steven Broad, said regulating wildlife markets for disease control is essential and efforts to curtail illegal and/or unsustainable trade in wildlife products should be a priority for the global community.
Unsanitary, cramped conditions where animals are kept in close proximity to each other and also to people can create the conditions under which viruses can adapt to cross the species barrier into humans with potentially fatal consequences, he says.
In 2002/2003 an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) was linked to a virus in bats which crossed into humans via civets. The precise route by which COVID-19 has been able to infect people is not known with certainty, but the transmission route is likely to involve at least one intermediate host animal species. The South China Agricultural University announced their discovery of a 99 percent genetic match between Covid-19 and a strain of the virus found in pangolins. A study published in Nature had earlier found the probable origin of the virus in bats.
TRAFFIC is calling on Vietnam and Hong Kong to also take strict measures against illegal wildlife markets to prevent further spreading of the virus.
Humane Society International (HSI) welcomed China's ban, saying it is China's most decisive action yet to halt a trade that has been implicated in the global coronavirus crisis, and one that causes immense suffering for hundreds of thousands of animals each year, including endangered wildlife. "China's wildlife trade has decimated populations of certain wild animals within the country and in other nations, and this is its most monumental announcement concerning animal welfare since it banned ivory in 2017,” said Alexia Wellbelove HSI's Senior Campaign Manager.
The Pangolin Trade
Pangolins are considered the most widely trafficked mammal in the world. Trade involves all eight species, four of which are native to Africa and four in Asia. With reported steep declines in Asian populations, the animals have increasingly been trafficked from Africa to Asia where they are consumed as food and for their supposed medicinal properties. Pangolin scales in particular are believed by some to treat a range of ailments from problems with lactation in women through to asthma and skin conditions.
TRAFFIC research published in 2017 found an average of 20 tonnes of pangolins and their parts trafficked internationally every year. The study was released in the wake of the world’s largest ever pangolin seizure, when China announced the seizure of 11.9 tonnes of scales from a ship in Shenzen.
In July 2018, Hong Kong's Customs and Excise Department seized over seven tons of pangolin scales in a shipping container that arrived from Africa bound for mainland China.
A recent TRAFFIC report notes an estimated 895,000 pangolins were trafficked from 2000–2019, while over 96,000kg of pangolin scales were seized from 2017–2019 across Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam, representing about 94 percent of the total quantity of scales confiscated in Southeast Asia during the period.
Last year, 14 leading courier and logistics companies in China signed a voluntary code of practice to refuse delivery of illegal wildlife and products to demonstrate their commitment to curbing illegal trade in wild animals and plants. Signatories of the voluntary code are: EMS, SF-Express, ZTO-Express, UTO-Express, TO-Expres, Yunda-Express, Deppon-Express, Best-Express, JD-Logistics, ZJS-Express, Suning-Logistics, China Air Express, DHL and FedEx.