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China has banned the consumption of wild animals in late February 2020 as a part of its wider response to the COVID-19 pandemic that should help to prevent the cross-species transmission of Novel viruses in the future. Though China is yet to pass any law on this issue, according to this ban eating wild animals are illegal now. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, which is widely suspected to have emerged from Wuhan’s Huanan Market in December 2019, public-health and animal-rights organizations are demanding for more scrutiny of “wet markets,” where a wide range of live animals are kept in close contact with one another and with people, slaughtered on the spot, and sold.
How wildlife consumption became a social practice in China?
The Great Leap Forward (Second Five Year Plan) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was an economic and social campaign by the Communist Party of China (CPC) from 1958 to 1962. Chairman Mao Zedong launched the campaign to reconstruct the country from an agricultural economy into a communist society through the formation of people’s communes. Mao asked all concern to increase efforts to multiply grain yields and bring industry to the countryside. Local officials were fearful of Anti-Rightist Campaigns and competed to fulfill or over-fulfill quotas based on Mao’s exaggerated claims, collecting “surpluses” that in fact did not exist and leaving farmers to starve. Higher officials did not dare to report the economic disaster caused by these policies, and national officials, blaming bad weather for the decline in food output, took little or no action. The Great Leap resulted in tens of millions of deaths. During that time, wildlife consumption became popular in China. Government officers, soldiers, and ordinary citizens went on a hunting spree of indiscriminate killing. In 1960, approximately 62,000 deer were wiped out in the Sichuan province and the Mongolian gazelle was hunted to near disappearance.
Small farmers turned to nurture wild animals, such as snakes, bats, and turtles, as a means of sustenance. Even animals such as tigers and pangolins, whose trade was illegal, entered to the wet markets.
In 1988 China approved Wildlife Protection Law, which declared that wildlife resources would be owned by the state. The law also provided legal protection to those engaged in wildlife nurturing, and said that the state would encourage the breeding and domestication of wild animals. According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in China, the country is one of the mega-biodiversity countries in the world, harboring nearly 10 per cent of all plant species and 14 per cent of animals on earth. In 2016, Wildlife Protection Law was amended to further legitimize the commercial use of wildlife, asserting explicitly that animals can be used for traditional Chinese medicine. However, presently Wildlife trade and consumption industry has a significant contribution in the overall economy of China. In 2017, it was worth $ 74 billion, employing more than 14 million people in the country.
Impact of Chinese Wildlife trade and consumption
China is a country where fruits, vegetables, hairy crabs and butchered meat are often sold next to bamboo rats, snakes, turtles, and palm civets. The wet market in Wuhan, as well as others throughout China brings an array of animals and humans in close contact with each other.
It has been believed that the deadly epidemic and related crisis occurred in last two decades, China as a country seems to be the epicenter of those outbreaks. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Bird Flu, and presently the Novel CORONA Virus (COVID-19) have created a serious catastrophe sometimes regionally and sometimes globally. Surprisingly, these entire crises are based on zoonotic effects, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. According to World Health Organization (WHO), the SARS-CoV was transmitted from civet cats to humans and MERS-CoV from dromedary camels to humans. However, it is still unclear, which animal has transferred the SARS-Cov 2 (Covid-19) to humans; bat, snake or pangolin.
Government Declared Ban and Social Practice
In 2003, civet cats were banned in large numbers after it was discovered that they likely transferred the SARS virus to humans. The selling of snakes was also briefly banned in Guangzhou after the SARS outbreak. But this restriction was not implemented properly. In December 2019, Chinese customs authorities in Zhejiang province seized more than 10,000 kilograms of pangolin scales, and discovered that the same criminal group had smuggled in some 12,500 kilograms of scales the previous year.
According to recent ban, China is only targeting the consumption of meat from wildlife; that means the fur and leather industry & trade of animal parts procured for traditional medicine could carry on as usual. Despite the critiques of different countries, China is continuing to promote their traditional medicines to cure COVID 19 disease. It is to be mentioned that there is an enormous use of wildlife to the Traditional Medicine sector in China. At present, Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is propagating herbal compound “lung-clearing and detoxing soup,” to be capable of fighting against the novel coronavirus outbreak. Yu Yanhong, a TCM official said, ‘We are willing to share the ‘Chinese experience’ and ‘Chinese solution’ of treating COVID-19’.
There is a Chinese claim that acupuncture and herbal medicine are effective for the treatment of COVID-19. The Beijing Health Commission notes that 87% of COVID-19 patients in Beijing received traditional Chinese medicine treatment (acupuncture and herbs). The commission documents that the total effective rate for patients receiving TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) treatment is 92%.
Very recently, the Chinese government has recommended using Tan Re Qing, an injection containing Bile bears to treat severe and critical COVID-19 cases. Bile bears, sometimes called battery bears, are the bears kept in captivity to harvest their bile, a digestive fluid produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder, which is used by some traditional Chinese medicine practitioners.
There are criticisms against the Chinese special way of dealing in all the issues; the Government allowed 54 species of wildlife and the meat and animals parts to be legally raised, sold and traded. It is to be noted that China’s vast and diverse landscape is home to a profound variety and abundance of wildlife. As of one of 17 mega diverse countries in the world, China has, according to one measure, 7,516 species of animals including 4,936 fish, 1,269 bird, 562 mammal, 403 reptile and 346 amphibian species. In terms of the number of species, China ranks third in the world in mammals, eighth in birds, seventh in reptiles and seventh in amphibians. Availability of these huge wildlife resources and other organic stuffs generated the inception of Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) industry. It is a broad range of medicine practices sharing common concepts which have been developed in China and are based on a tradition of more than 2,000 years, including various forms of herbal medicine, acupuncture, massage (tui na), exercise (qigong), and dietary therapy. It is primarily used as a complementary alternative medicine approach. TCM is widely used in China and it is also used in the West. Besides the TCM industry, over the years the economy of China has transitioned from a centrally-planned system to a more market-oriented economy, which currently ranks as the second largest in the world by nominal GDP and the largest in the world by purchasing power parity. China has the world’s fastest-growing major economy, with growth rates averaging 6% over 30 years. The multi-diversified economic activities and dependency of other countries on China has created an environment of global center point considering the valued importance. Considering this aspect, the declaration of banning wildlife consumption by the Chinese authority needs to be implemented for ensuring safety of millions of people around the world.
Researcher, CHT and Regional Politics