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Let’s talk about the cause of the coronavirus

April 4, 2020

The deadly coronavirus pandemic most probably started at a wildlife market in Wuhan, China On barbaric and unhygienic wet markets like these, people are selling snakes, deer, donkeys, sheep, foxes, chickens, dogs, civets and more. Animals are being slaughtered in front of customers. Wet markets put people and living and dead animals in close contact. These markets are not unusual in China, in fact there are thousands of them. Wet markets in China are very popular and larger than elsewhere. Trade in wildlife is officially banned in China, but enforcement is very difficult.

The coronavirus became a pandemic and has huge impact on everyone all over the world. People die and get sick. Hospitals are full of sick patients. The economy stopped. We don’t know yet what the consequences will be on the long term.

People can’t go to work. Schools, shops, restaurants and cafes closed. Everything is unsure. The coronavirus affects us all, but why does it look like we may not talk about the cause? It looks like people feel offended if you are talking about the cause of this all. The cruel and unhygienic meat market in Wuhan is most probably the cause for the coronavirus. These markets are a hell for animals and should be forbidden. In fact, we should stop eating animals completely to tackle many infectious diseases.

What are wet markets?

On a wet market live and dead animals are kept in cages and sold for human consumption. Stalls are selling live fish, meat and wild animals.

If you search for photos or videos on the Internet you will understand why the term ‘wet’ is used. Countertops splashed with blood; animals are slaughtered in front of customers eyes. Wet markets are linked to outbreaks of zoonotic diseases including the current coronavirus.

This industry for exotic animals in China is enormous. The country’s wildlife trade is worth more than $73 billion and employs more than a million people. Since the coronavirus started in December 2019, almost 20.000 wildlife farms have been shut down in China or put under quarantine.

In 2003, wet markets across China were temporarily banned from holding wildlife after the SARS outbreak. But nothing has changed since then and even after this current coronavirus outbreak, some temporarily closed wet markets in China were reported to have been re-opened.

History of wet markets in China

For Chinese people, the use of wild animals is tradition. They use them for food, traditional medicine, clothing and even as pets. Eating boar and peacock is considered good for your health. Also, exotic animals can be an important status symbol for Chinese people.

Wild animal farming has a long history in China. Millions of Chinese people died of starvation under Mao Zedong in the 1970’s because there was not enough food. After Mao, Xiaoping allowed farmers to provide for their own sustenance. All kind of wild animals became staples of rural farming like rats, civet cats and bats. This farming was originated by the poor but has now developed in a billion-dollar industry.

And wild animals are not only used for consumption but are also used as main ingredients for alternative medicines. Even now, China’s National Health Commission recommends a treatment for Covid-19 that includes an injection containing bear bile powder. Obviously, a very painful process for bears. It’s ridiculous; shutting down the wildlife trade for food on the one hand and promoting the trade in animal parts for alternative medicine on the other.

Stop the wildlife trade on wet markets

China acknowledged it must bring its wildlife industry under control to prevent another outbreak. In March 2020 China announced a permanent ban on wildlife trade and consumption.

But to stop the wildlife trade will be difficult. It’s a major step in the right direction, but experts are warning about a shortcoming in the law, which exempts the trade in wild animals for medical purposes. Besides, illegal trade is also a huge problem. For example, the pangolin is still being trade, despite the trade being internationally outlawed in 2016. Almost 100.000 pangolins a year are captured from the wild and poached for their keratin scales; an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine. Even more worrying is that recent studies proposed that pangolins are the most probably host of the coronavirus.

They tried to ban the wildlife trade before. In 2003 they temporarily ban wet markets and wildlife industry after the SARS outbreak. But China lifted the ban a couple of months later that year when the WHO declared the SARS virus contained.

Zoonotic diseases

Covid-19 is a zoonotic disease and spread from animals to people.

‘’Coronaviruses like SARS circulate in bats, and every so often they get introduced into the human population,’’ says Vincent Munster, a virologist at the Rocky Mountain Laboratories. Bats were most probably the original hosts. The bats infected other animals, which transmitted the disease to humans. The animals who transferred the virus to humans is still unclear, but they suspect the pangolin. The pangolin is widely prized in China as a delicacy and their scales are used for traditional medicine.

‘’Because these viruses have not been circulating in humans before, specific immunity to these viruses is absent in humans, says, Bart Haagmans, virologist at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

On a wet market like in Wuhan, lots of people, living and dead animals are put together. That makes it easy for zoonoses to jump from animals to humans. ‘’Many exotic animals with their own viruses are close together and these viruses can jump from one animal species to another species, then that species may become an amplifier, which increases the amount of virus in the wet market substantially’’, says virologist professor Leo Poon. Poon says, when many people visiting the market the risk of the virus jumping to humans rises sharply.

Animals significantly contribute to the spread of zoonotic diseases, partly due to growing livestock farms. Scientists estimate that more than 60% known infectious diseases in people can be spread from animals and 75% new or emerging diseases in people come from animals. Examples of zoonoses are Ebola, SARS, MERS, Rabies, Lyme, Malaria, Zika and Bird Flu.

Danger of bird flu

Bird flu is also transmittable to humans and becomes very dangerous when it spread from human to human. It already happened for 8 times the last 23 years. In most cases, people were infected while slaughtering or preparing chickens or other poultry. These outbreaks did not spread successfully. But scientists are pointing out if a bird flu virus mutates, a new pandemic may occur and it could be more serious than the current coronavirus as the mortality rate is 60%.

Preventing pandemics

If we want to limit the risks of such contagious diseases, we must ban these unhygienic wet markets international. The risk for developing new diseases is most likely there. Good news is that, more and more people in Asia want to close these wet markets according to recent research conducted by WWF. About 5000 residents from Japan, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam en Hong Kong participated in this research. Almost 80% said they believe it's possible to prevent a pandemic like this by closing wet markets. Even better, about 93% supports a ban.

Pandemics like these are predicted for years now, but nothing has changed. ‘’These pandemics are more likely to originate in the Far East because of the close contact with live animals and the density of the population’’, says, Adrian Hyzler, chief medical officer at Healix International.

Besides closing wet markets, the best thing to do to prevent future pandemics is to stop eating meat in general. There are huge animal factories all over the globe, including in the Netherlands. Because people want to eat meat that often and that much, it results in huge numbers of animals that are crammed together in large farms. Not to mention the amounts of antibiotics that’s used to keep the animals ‘healthy’. And already some bacteria have become resistant, which is also a huge health problem.

Let's end animal cruelty

Besides the threat for human health and the risk of pandemics like Covid-19 there are obviously other reasons to stop eating animals in general, like the environmental footprint and for ethical reasons.

Animals are being abused and murdered only for human consumption. Is it really necessary to treat animals like humans do? It's not human at all. Why don’t we show any compassion and empathy towards animals? That’s a question we ask ourselves a lot.

These cruel wet markets in China and other parts of the world are barbaric and don’t suit in our modern society. It’s hell on earth for millions of helpless animals. Animals suffering in small cages waiting to be slaughtered.

People often say, what’s the difference between killing cows and pigs in the Western countries. These are animals with feelings and rights too and that's very true. That’s also barbaric and wrong, but in my opinion there is a difference, and that's the way they treat the animals. They torture animals before they kill them. They cut off limbs before killing. Cats and dogs are skinned alive before cooking or grill these poor animals alive. And there is obiously the unhygienic situation on those wet markets too. It’s all sick and disgusting.

Not only wet markets should be forbidden but all kind of animal abuse should belong to the past. The farming of millions of animals packed together is not a farm anymore but a factory. Not only animals are ‘produced’ and murdered for consumption. Animals are also victim when there is a disease outbreak, which often happened the last couple of years. Thousands of animals have to be murdered to avoid spreading. During the African Swine Fever in China millions of pigs were buried alive, like garbage. Is this really happening in today’s society?

Dog meat markets

Did you know 20% of the Chinese people (1.4 billion people) still eat dog meat according to Humane Society International. Note that 30 million dogs a year are skinned and boiled alive, bludgeoned to death or poisoned.

In Vietnam and South Korea the dog meat business is huge too. Millons of dogs a year are being slaughtered each year. The demand is so high, smugglers are even stealing pets for slaughter. The most shocking thing I read is the belief that dog meat grows tastier the more they suffer. So by terrifying dogs, they flood them with adrenaline and they believe it makes the meat tastier. It’s the opposite of what we believe in the West; animals should be stressed before being slaughtered.

Last week Shenzhen, a city in China announced they will ban the sale and consumption of cats and dogs for food from May 1 2020. Shenzhen becomes the first Chinese city to ban dog and cat meat for consumption. It follows the China’s nationwide permanent shutdown of the wildlife industry.

Dog and cat meat will no longer be allowed to be sold at restaurants as well as live markets. The new legislation also includes a permanent ban on the consumption, breeding, sale of wildlife for human consumption. This might be a first very small step in the right direction, but I doubt they will really stop. Despite the health risk, these practices are deeply embedded in rural Chinese life. Eating dog is considered to be a source of strength, curing illness and boosting libido.

Will we learn from the coronavirus?

Isn’t it time to change our relationship with animals? Especially now the number of zoonoses is increasing. We can wait for another pandemic or we can do something to prevent it. We have huge numbers of livestock in the Netherlands and worldwide; cows, pigs and poultry. We are susceptible to viruses. In addition, we live closely together with many people, a virus can spread quickly. We hope things will change after the coronacrisis and we wil work together towards a more sustainable world without animal cruelty. And hopefully people will switch to a plant-based diet. That's our dream world after corona.

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