Public Opinion On ‘Wet Markets’: Perspectives From Asia
The world is currently both embroiled in and obsessed with the coronavirus outbreak, which is thought to have originated at a live wildlife (wet) market in Wuhan, China. In response, the Chinese Communist Party announced a ban on all markets like the one in Wuhan in an attempt to prevent further outbreaks after sustained international pressure. Public health experts from China, and worldwide, are supportive of this measure, though it should be noted that a similar ban was enacted after the 2004 SARS outbreak and was eventually allowed to lapse. However, the worldwide nature of this pandemic may result in greater attention to the Chinese government’s response.
This study was commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to look at public support for banning such markets in other Asian countries: Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, and Myanmar, as well as the Hong Kong semi-autonomous region. 1,000 people from each region were surveyed, excluding only those under 18 and those working in marketing, advertising, or related fields.
Only around 10% of respondents reported attending a market themselves or knowing someone who did. Around 80% of respondents overall said that closure of these markets would be effective in preventing the spread of disease, and 93% said that they would be supportive of government measures to close wild animal markets. Respondents were generally worried about the coronavirus outbreak, ranging from 88% in Vietnam to 76% in Japan. People also reported being less likely to buy wildlife products after the coronavirus outbreak, even if the markets remained open. Furthermore, if the markets were banned, around 40% of those who buy from those markets reported that they would simply stop buying wildlife products rather than seek alternate channels. This sudden aversion to wildlife markets may be due to the belief that the disease can be spread by consuming infected wild animals – 60% of respondents believed this to be true, though scientific evidence is not conclusive on this point.
It’s worth noting that the study only asked about unregulated wild animal markets. Markets selling domestic animals were not looked at specifically, which is understandable given that the study was commissioned by the World Wildlife Federation. Close contact with live animals of any kind – especially in cramped, unsanitary conditions – provides opportunities for disease transmission. Flu pandemics have historically originated and jumped to humans among chickens and pigs in farms.
Banning wildlife “wet markets” would undoubtedly reduce the chances of contracting illnesses from wild animals, and would likely have a significant impact on conservation efforts for animals like rhinos, pangolins, and elephants. However, we as animal advocates need to hammer home the point that animal-borne diseases are not limited to wild or exotic animals, and that your average chicken or pig farm is perfectly capable of starting a deadly outbreak. While the wet markets in China might be particularly risky due to the wide variety of animals in close contact with each other, any situation in which a large number of animals are kept in cramped quarters with frequent human contact poses a threat. Animal advocates should pressure lawmakers and farmers to reduce the number of animals kept in disease-friendly conditions and educate consumers on the risks posed by animal agriculture.