Reports of wild meat sold in China markets take Twitter by storm. Here's why this is concerning
If the reports are correct, then it would mean that we, as a species, have failed to learn a very important lesson from this pandemic.
Earlier this week, news reports started filtering in that China had started selling bats, pangolins and other wild meats in its “wet” markets again. These news reports cited British journalists who had seen this happening as their source, though it is — at this time — difficult to confirm if and where in China this is happening.
This is concerning for two reasons: if the reports are incorrect, they could fuel another wave of racist attacks against Chinese origin people living elsewhere in the world. And if they are correct, then it would mean that we, as a species, have failed to learn a very important lesson from this pandemic: experts working on the COVID-19 pandemic have already pointed out the risks of consuming wild animals that are relatively new to our diet. This is because these animals could be carriers of viruses, bacterias and other pathogens that we are not immune to — or even aware of — yet.
COVID-19, caused by a new coronavirus that no one had heard of till December 2019, is also thought to have been transmitted to humans by an animal. Scientists have variously suggested bats, pangolins and snakes as the plausible source. And while scientists have since ruled out snakes, there is no consensus on whether pangolins or bats may have been the original animal source of the new coronavirus named SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV).
Life in China
Last week, life in China started to regain some sense of normalcy after two months of complete lockdown. Factories and markets reopened, though there are reports that guards are stationed everywhere still.
To be sure, the rise in cases in China seems to have slowed. On March 31, China reported no new local cases again. On April 1, the country started reporting asymptomatic cases - patients who tested positive for the virus but showed very mild or no symptoms of the illness. About 1,500 such patients are under observation in China.
Coming back to the sale of wild meats, in mid-February, Reuters news agency reported that authorities in China raided homes, restaurants and markets and confiscated weasels, squirrels and boar meat. While some of these animals were in demand for their meat, others are used in traditional Chinese medicine. Pangolin scales, for example, are said to have medicinal properties.
Finally, China is not the only country in the world that eats varied meats. Snakes, snails and pigeons are also cooked and eaten in countries like France. In different parts of India, we eat insects, dogs, shark meat, frogs - different cultures, different cuisines.
So while this coronavirus may be traced back to China, the responsibility for ending practices that could fuel the next pandemic should rest with all countries. The important thing is to heed what the scientists say: if the meat has never been eaten by humans before, wait till researchers say it’s safe. If there’s no research available on it, avoid that meat till there is!
For more information, read our article on Steps to take now to be better prepared for future epidemics.
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