Author: Rishabh Sekar, Awareness Officer

As a subject, animal consumption and the regulation of animals being consumed is one that goes together with our health and well-being. However, the importance of such a subject has stepped up a notch in the wake of being identied as one of the key factors of the current COVID-19 pandemic. According to the UN, illegal wildlife trade is currently valued globally at $23 billion. As COVID-19 continues to spread and remain the only topic of conversation, China’s contribution to this industry has found its way into the spotlight, having also been highlighted as the root cause behind the SARS outbreak in 2003.

While a permanent ban has now been placed on the trade & consumption of non-aquatic wild animals, wet markets in southern China continue to sell wild animals such as bats and pangolins illegally. The laws governing the wildlife trade in China currently only seem to cover the consumption of meat from wildlife. As a result, there is still scope for illegal animal trade, from which products can be derived for medicinal consumption as well, ensuring that the risk of disease transfer from animals to human beings still exists. In another promising initiative, authorities in China are being pressured into establishing a social credit system that credits and punishes e-commerce companies for their role in reducing the online wildlife trafficking.

The foundation of the all the reform that is and will be taking place in this regard lies in the answer to a simple question: What happens if proper care isn’t taken regarding the meat being consumed by humans? The outbreak of COVID-19 is a classic example of the possibility of the transfer of viruses from animals to humans due to several factors.

  • The meat that is consumed might not have been cleaned properly, which could mean that it was sold, cooked and consumed with stains of contaminated blood from the animal from when it was killed.
  • The meat could have come from animals that had some disease that it may have obtained from the abject conditions in which they were kept before they were processed for consumption.
  • Finally, the animal that is being consumed might have obtained a virus from another animal it had been in contact with that could possibly be transferred through consumption to human beings.

In conclusion, the need to ensure that the meat being sold is regulated in a competent manner has never been greater. To this effect, a dilemma continues to exist: If all trade is banned, it runs the risk of being pushed underground, which could provide a greater risk in terms of the conditions that the animals may be subjected to.[4] Therefore, the key lies in efficient management of wildlife trade taking place completely above ground, which, when properly monitored, can effectively mitigate the risk of disease.