WHO expert says wet markets should not be banned as they provide livelihoods, gets slammed by PETA
Traditional food markets should be better regulated, better managed, and better resourced, said Peter Ben Embarek, food safety and animal diseases expert at WHO
The coronavirus pandemic has brought the infamous wet markets that sell live animals under the scanner. Many have since called for a ban.
However, WHO food safety and animal diseases expert Peter Ben Embarek thinks bans are unnecessary. Instead, he believes authorities can avoid future outbreaks by better managing these markets as shuttering them could risk livelihoods.
"Traditional food markets can and should be better regulated, better managed, and better resourced. They provide fresh and affordable food for millions. They can be made safe," Embarek wrote on his Twitter account.
Overcowrded wet markets increase the risk of animal-human transmission of diseases. “Food safety in these environments is rather difficult and, therefore, it is not surprising that sometimes we also have these events happening within markets,” Embarek said.
Addressing food safety is possible by improving hygiene and food safety standards and separating live animals from humans, he explained.
His statements come as some scientists are not sure whether the virus emerged out of the market or if it exploited its soils to spread rapidly.
Chinese researchers are hunting down the original host of the virus. For now, the suspicions are on bats. The virus might have jumped from these mammals into another animal before reaching humans.
This process is going to not going to be easy. Studies have shown other animals are susceptible to the disease, including cats, tigers, ferrets, and dogs.
And identifying the original animal source will take up a lot of time. Health officials will have to trace the footsteps of the virus by interviewing those infected in the early stages of the outbreak. They then have to make a list of animals that came into contact with the former patient. After this, scientists would have to check if the coronavirus samples from the shortlisted animals match the new coronavirus, circulating in humans.
But China is carrying out this work without taking any external help. Embarek said China might have the expertise to conduct such studies.
Criticizing Embarek's remarks on regulations, PETA said: "The World Health Organization should not be in the business of weighing commerce against human sickness and death and choosing commerce. PETA is calling for live-animal markets to be banned for the sake of every other species sold and slaughtered in them—and for the survival of the human species itself."
After China banned wildlife markets, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, the acting executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, called for similar measures across the world.
But banning wet markets could fuel illegal trade and drive animals into extinction. "It would be good to ban the live animal markets as China has done and some countries. But we should also remember you have communities, particularly from low-income rural areas, particularly in Africa, which are dependent on wild animals to sustain the livelihoods of millions of people," Mrema said.
She added: “So unless we get alternatives for these communities, there might be a danger of opening up illegal trade in wild animals which currently is already leading us to the brink of extinction for some species."