ANIMAL WATCH-On March 16, when Animal and Coronovirus - What are the Real Dangers? appeared in CityWatch, it was already obvious that the Chinese government would soon lift its March 5, 2020 ban on wildlife consumption and animal “wet” markets, due to the severe economic and employment impacts such closures would have on the Chinese national and local economies.
Wet markets, which provide fresh vegetables, as well as meat and seafood of various kinds at reasonable prices, are the traditional way Chinese families obtain food. The open markets also provide income to local farmers and fishermen. Even if supermarkets were available, going to the open-air, farmer-style markets is a part of the daily lifestyle.
Bloomberg News described “wet” markets as essential a part of China’s everyday life as “bodegas in New York City or boulangeries in Paris.”
Many of these markets sell live or freshly killed domestic animals (including cats and dogs). They also support illegal wild-animal poaching, trade and commerce by providing exotic animals for food and medicinal purposes.
Regardless of the risk of a likely resurgence of the current deadly pandemic or a mutated version of the virus sweeping the world again, China announced last week, as anticipated, that some “wet” markets would be allowed to re-open because the coronavirus threat had decreased in the country.
But, the Hunan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan which had the stigma of being linked to the early outbreak of COVID19, would reportedly remain closed.
It has not been ascertained whether that market’s activities were the genesis or just incidental to the first cases identified as SARS-COV-2, the virus from which COVID-19 developed. But according to reports, there were bats available as food at the Hunan market at the time and Chinese scientists and officials now believe they were a possible intermediary. The market also had myriad of wild animals, including civets, presumed almost immediately to be the source of the outbreak.
WHY CHINA WON'T GIVE UP THE 'WET' MARKETS
Here are some of the economic facts that are key influencers when Western officials demand that China close its “wet” markets because of health/sanitation dangers:
China's wildlife trade is reportedly worth more than $73 billion and employs more than one million people.
Almost 20,000 wildlife farms have been shut down or put under quarantine, including breeders of peacocks, foxes, deer and turtles. Some of these animals are used for traditional Chinese medicine—an industry now worth an estimated $130 billion, according to CNN.
On March 30, the Jerusalem Post reported, that, just one month after China's "permanent shutdown" of its illegal wildlife farming industry, prohibiting the trade and consumption of wild animals, "the markets are in operation without strict oversight of illegal wildlife-trading activities."
CITY OF WUHAN LOCKDOWN ENDS
"China has ended its lockdown of Wuhan, the original epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, as the city reemerges from the deadly pandemic that is now raging across the globe," CNN reported. On April 7, “the ‘wet markets’ were packed immediately with vendors and customers.” However, Hunan Seafood Market was still closed.
CITY OF SHENZHEN SPURRED BY COVID-19 TO PASS A BAN
After decades of working with Chinese activists in Shenzhen, the Humane Society International (HSI) announced that effective May 1, 2020, "Shenzhen, in southeastern China, has banned the consumption of cats and dogs raised as pets," adding that many of the victims are stolen from yards and beaten to death as food in open markets.
Although essentially symbolic at this time, because enforcement will be almost impossible in a city of 13 million people -- many of whom use exotic animals for food and medicinal purposes -- Shenzhhen’s ban is still a beacon of hope for young Chinese animal-rights advocates. It is a permanent prohibition on the consumption, breeding, and sale of wildlife such as snakes, lizards, and other wild animals for human consumption. It also prohibits the consumption of animals farmed for medicinal purposes.
But this did not please everyone. On March 11, the Daily Mail reported that an eastern Chinese firm, Fankuai Dog Meat, which specializes in dog-meat dishes, posted an encouragement for people to EAT DOGS to show their "cultural confidence." It also accused lawmakers in Shenzhen of drafting a law to "appease the West."
Dr. Teresa M. Telecky, VP of the HSI wildlife department said: “Shenzhen is the first city in the world to take the lessons learned from this pandemic seriously and make the changes needed to avoid another. People around the world are suffering the impact of this pandemic because of one thing: the wildlife trade."
COVID-19 WHITE HOUSE TASK FORCE LACKS VETERINARY-SCIENCE EXPERTISE
U.S. officials are calling for President Xi Jinping's government to immediately close the markets, saying they are potential breeding grounds for disease. Although President Trump's advisory Task Force members brandish very impressive credentials in health and human services, infectious disease control and food and drugs, there is no specialist in the science of veterinary medicine, animals and zoonotic disease.
No other profession has the expertise to adequately advise the President on the medical, economic and political impact of the spread of diseases related to the cyclical and unique activities that can impact domestic and foreign relations.
Veterinarians understand not only animal anatomy, and zoonotic (those that can be transmitted to humans) diseases, they also have a unique understanding of the relationship between humans and animals. That relationship has dramatic effects on the culture, politics and economy of entire nations as well as the sub-regions within them.
The human-animal interface affects major aspects of industry, trade, travel, and politics. Animals in every country are involved in food supply, labor, trade, religion, reforestation and many aspects of economic and cultural activities worldwide, in a system of interdependence and survival that is now closely entwined. An extreme viral outbreak, as we first saw in China, soon exposed humans in most countries to the threat of death.
Any president would be well served to have veterinary insight when considering foreign relations. It would inform and enlighten our position and how we deal with the actions and attitudes of other countries, such as those that depend on hunting wild animals, or whose economy is intertwined with the poaching of animals for alleged medicinal or other purposes. Working with other countries to stop those activities and the importation (and smuggling) of animal parts is crucial to keeping potential disease in check.
We are seeing evidence of this relationship with COVID-19 and have experienced it in the past with numerous other epidemics such as Ebola, Black Plague, Swine and Avian Flus, HIV/AIDS, SARS and MERS. All were initially related to human contact with various animals and birds, causing animal-related viral transmissions to humans, which then expanded into human-to-human transmissions. The costs in dollars and lives has also become a serious drain on health and medical systems, as well as on individual families.
Now, because of China's economic and cultural dependence on wildlife trade, it is being forced to re-engage in the exact same risky behavior by allowing poaching and trafficking of wildlife and possibly endangered species and inhumane slaughter of wild and domestic animals -- all of which has led to this pandemic -- in order to secure its economic survival.
IS THE PROBLEM 'WET MARKETS’ OR CRUELTY TO ANIMALS?
On April 3, David Fickling wrote an interesting, if controversial, Bloomberg News op-ed, which advised, "Hold the outrage. Far from being cesspits of disease, they provide clean, fresh produce." He proposes that more outrage should be directed toward wildlife importers who bring in exotic animals with unknown pathogens.
This is good advice from a pragmatic standpoint, considering that, with the decrease in popularity with a new generation that prefers to have clean, packaged food, the 'wet' markets are undergoing a natural demise due to competition from modern supermarkets in cities. But there is still a segment of the Chinese population that will continue to support the traditional outlets for fresh produce and meat and will maintain the economy of this local business model, regardless of efforts to stop them.
Fickling's points are well taken. The 'wet' markets do not create the problem. They are the visible indicators of what the population wants to eat and will buy. If the various meats (or live animals) were not provided in these public locations, would the public stop wanting them? Or, would they just go to an underground source?
At least, in the 'wet' markets, there is the opportunity to regulate and inspect, as long as there is the will to pass laws and dedicate the government funding for enforcement.
ANIMALS AND CORONAVIRUS - SOCIETAL CHANGE
"With growing human populations increasingly encroaching on wildlife habitats, with unprecedented changes in land use, with wildlife and livestock transported across countries and their products around the world, and with a sharp increase in both domestic and international travel, new disease outbreaks of pandemic scale are a near mathematical certainty," writes Jane Qui of Scientific American, on March 11, 2020, in her must-read article, “How China's "Bat Woman" Hunted Down Viruses from SARS to the New Coronavirus.
The key figure is virologist Shi Zhengli, China's 'bat woman,' at Wuhan Institute of Virology. "Shi was summoned on December 29, 2019, to do the research when the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention first detected a novel coronavirus in two hospital patients with atypical pneumonia," Qui writes.
The fear was that, because it belonged to the same family of bat-borne viruses as the one that caused severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the spread could result in a similar disease. SARS infected approximately 8,100 people from 2002-2003 and killed nearly 800, she states.
She describes Australia’s 1994 Hendra virus infections, where the contagion jumped from horses to humans, and Malaysia’s 1998 Nipah virus outbreak, in which it moved from pigs to people, with one link—pathogens that originated in fruit-eating bats. Horses and pigs were merely the intermediate hosts, she explains.
"Shi’s team finally discovered bat-borne viruses that can infect human lung cells in a petri dish, cause SARS-like diseases in mice, and evade vaccines and drugs that work against SARS. This discovery helped to jump-start a global search for animal viruses that could find their way into humans. But equally alarming was the fact that once introduced to a human, it could be sustained by human-to-human contagion."
‘BATS ARE IMPORTANT,’ USGS REMINDS US
By eating insects, bats save United States agriculture billions of dollars per year in pest control. Some studies have estimated that service to be worth over $3.7 billion per year, and possibly as much as $53 billion, according to USGS.
This value does not, however, take into account the volume of insects eaten by bats in forest ecosystems and the degree to which that benefits industries like lumber. It also doesn’t take into account the critical importance of bats as plant and crop pollinators. All of these make bats even more essential to us.
THE NEED TO AVOID CONTACT WITH WILDLIFE
Although the Wuhan outbreak is the sixth one caused by bat-borne viruses in the past 26 years, “the animals [themselves] are not the problem,” says Linfa Wang, PhD, director of the Programme in Emerging Infectious Diseases at Duke-NUS Medical School, Singapore. “The problem arises when we get in contact with them,” he says.
“The best way forward is prevention,” Peter Daszak, Director of EcoHealth Alliance, advises. Because 70 percent of animal-borne emerging infectious diseases come from wild creatures. We should start is to find all those viruses in wildlife globally and develop better diagnostic tests,” he adds.
WHY ISN'T A VETERINARIAN ADVISING PRESIDENT TRUMP?
Dr. Michael W. Fox, the Animal Doctor, has a degree in veterinary medicine as well as doctorate degrees in medicine and animal behavior/ethology. He is a member of the British and American Veterinarian Medical Associations and now lives in Minnesota.
According to his Curriculum Vitae, he was with The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) in Washington, DC, from 1976 to 1997, serving in many roles, including Director, Institute for the Study of Animal Problems, and Vice President, Bioethics and Farm Animal Protection.
He advises us all:
"The American Veterinary Medical Association is actively monitoring developments related to animals and COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus."
Dr. Fox provides essential information on coronavirus and human and animal care during this pandemic, and reminds us: "For more details about this emerging disease, see the relevant article on my website (drfoxonehealth.com)," he writes. "Essentially, this emerging disease and others will continue to be threats, calling for ever more vaccines and medications, so long as preventive medicine remains human-centered and reactive rather than proactive."
Dr. Fox supports other medical and scientific experts and animal activists with advice that could apply not only to China and the wet markets, but to nations all over the world, before the next outbreak:
"Governments must address wildlife poaching, trafficking, habitat encroachment, our ever-increasing human numbers and the killing of animals, wild and domesticated, for food," he warns.
This is an issue revolving around animals of all species and zoonotic diseases.
Why hasn't President Trump appointed a veterinarian to the White House Coronavirus Advisory Task Force?
(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of LA employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.