With the world in coronavirus lockdown and the global economy in freefall, it is galling to hear that the Communist government in China has given permission for wet markets to reopen. Wet markets (so-called because of their frequently hosed-down floors), where every conceivable kind of fish, reptile and wild or domestic animal can be purchased and inhumanely slaughtered for human consumption, are believed to be the source of the current pandemic. A recently re-opened wet market in Wuhan, where Covid-19 was first detected, was videoed in mid-April openly selling dogs, cats, snakes, toads, racoons, pangolins and tortoises to eager customers. Covid-19 is thought to have transferred from horseshoe bats to pangolins and from pangolins to humans. The various different animals are crushed together and piled high in rusty cages. They are often bleeding from injuries sustained during their capture or transportation, when the cages are hurled to the ground from the back of trucks. Urine and excrement drips from cage to cage as the terrified animals watch their neighbours being dragged out and clubbed or stabbed to death.

Despite warnings from the World health Organisation (WHO) that such markets are dangerous and should be permanently closed, the Chinese government continue to deny the coronavirus originated in a Wuhan wet market. They claim that they are just as safe as farmers’ markets in the West. Both SARS and Covid-19 are in the “coronavirus” zoonotic disease family and both emerged from animals in China’s notorious wildlife markets. Genetic sequencing appears to rule out the conspiracy theory that it was lab created, although China’s main laboratory for testing animal viruses is in Wuhan. Following the SARS outbreak in 2002/2003, Chinese scientists were able to trace the virus through the intermediary of civet cats to cave-dwelling horseshoe bats, in Yunnan province in Southwest China. The Chinese government temporarily closed all wet markets as a precaution, but they were soon reopened. 

Dr David Nabarro, a WHO expert on Covid-19 and special representative of the United Nations secretary general for food security and nutrition, said the world health body “pleads with governments and just about everybody” to be mindful of how viruses can spread from the animal kingdom to humans. He told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, that “75% of emerging infections come from the animal kingdom. It’s partly the markets, but it’s also other places where humans and animals are in close contact.”

In America, President Trump has been quick to politicise the pandemic. Calling it the ‘China virus’ or the ‘Wuhan virus’, he has turned his fire on the WHO and his Democratic opponent for the presidential elections in November – Joe Biden, accusing both of being “weak on China” and even suspending for sixty days America’s $400 million contribution to the WHO’s annual budget. Draft bills are already circulating in Congress demanding the closure of China’s wet markets, with one Republican Senator, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, demanding that China should be quarantined “from the civilized world.” 

Senior Chinese government officials have mounted a counter-offensive, claiming that the virus originated in America and offering their expertise to help countries fight the pandemic. However, mounting international criticism may be getting through to some parts of China. In April the city of Shenzhen introduced a law banning the sale and consumption of cat and dog meat, explaining that cats and dogs are companion animals and not for eating. This is surely a breakthrough. China has a long and wretched history of abusing companion animals. In 2009, the EU implemented a law banning the import, export and trade in cat and dog fur. It was the culmination of an eight-year campaign that had seen millions of European citizens sign petitions demanding an end to the grizzly business, which was estimated to kill over two million animals in China every year, to supply the European fur trade. Slaughter of these animals was horrific, with cats strangled outside their cages as other cats looked on and dogs noosed with metal wires and then slashed across the groin until they bled to death. 

In Harbin (Northern China), investigators from Humane Society International - documented a dog being skinned while still blinking and conscious. The pelts from these tortured creatures were appearing in EU stores as full-length coats, rugs, homeopathic arthritis aids, hair bows for children, trim on sweaters and parka hoods and linings for boots and gloves, as well as toy cat and dog figurines. Stray dogs and cats were often rounded up, slaughtered and skinned and even domestic pets were stolen to meet the growing demand for these products. America applied a ban on cat and dog fur in 2001 and Australia followed suit in 2003. Thankfully, the EU surrendered to international pressure and a robust campaign by MEP’s and finally agreed to ban the trade in 2009. It may have saved two million cats and dogs from an agonising death to supply European markets, but sadly the business continues in China and countries like South Korea, both for fur and food. 

It is now essential for the EU, the WHO, the UN and individual nation states to condemn the practice in these countries and to hold the Chinese government in particular to account for the Covid-19 pandemic, which has created widespread economic ruin, unemployment and poverty on an unprecedented scale. The use of wild animal meat or by-products for human consumption or for medicinal use is cruel, repugnant and as we’ve seen to our cost, poses a global threat to human health. And yet, later this year, the Lychee and Dog Meat Festival will take place in Yulin, in Guangxi province, China. The festival is held for ten days, around the time of the summer solstice and involves the slaughter of up to ten thousand dogs by festival goers, who believe that eating dog meat and lychees will somehow protect them from the fierce summer heat. 

The State Forestry and Grassland Administration, under the Ministry of Natural Resources, is the agency in China responsible for issuing licenses to wildlife breeders. They imposed the ban on wet markets after the Covid-19 infection was traced to a wildlife market in Wuhan. They are also responsible for allowing these markets to reopen. The Chinese government must be asked to think again. We cannot allow this cruelty and risk to human health to continue.