After an investigation team concluded that COVID-19 most likely originated in livestock: Experts To China
After an investigation team concluded that COVID-19 most likely originated in livestock, experts said China and its neighbors must not only crackdown on wildlife trade but also close legal loopholes that enable disease-prone species to be farmed.
SARS-CoV-2, the virus that triggered the global pandemic, was “likely to very likely” transmitted to humans from bats through an intermediate animal, according to a World Health Organization-led report published Tuesday, with wildlife farming playing a key role.
The findings, according to Tong Yigang, a Chinese animal disease expert who was involved in the joint report, vindicated Beijing’s decision last year to prohibit the trade in wildlife for human consumption.
However, the study also highlighted the wildlife farms that are still permitted to operate lawfully, supporting the TCM industry and the fur trade – and posing additional risks.
“With farms, you have a wide pool of animals that are more or less genetically homogeneous, making it possible for a virus to evolve,” said Christian Walzer, chief veterinarian at the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York.
Thousands of animal samples were examined in China to track down the coronavirus’s origins, but the study concluded that further research was required. It also suggested conducting surveys at mink and raccoon dog farms, which China continues to allow despite the fact that they are disease-prone.
“Cramming millions of animals together in these abusive industries provides a perfect petri dish for pandemics, and unless we ban fur farming… we will continue to play Russian roulette with global public safety,” Peter Li, China expert at Humane Society International, warned.
SCALES OF JUSTICE
Experts believe the wildlife trade has been able to continue due to regulatory loopholes, weak compliance, and transnational trafficking gangs. Pangolins, an endangered mammal known as a possible SARS-CoV-2 intermediary species, remains a prized possession.
Pangolin scales were an officially recognized TCM ingredient until last year and were used to treat conditions like arthritis. Activists argue that, despite China’s recent crackdown, penalties remain unequal: in one recent instance, smugglers arrested on the island province of Hainan were given only small fines.
Foreign traffickers continue to operate. A Chinese-owned special economic zone in Myanmar’s border district of Mong La has long been a source of pangolin scales delivered to China.
Chris Shepherd, executive director of the Monitor Environmental Research Society, who studies illegal wildlife trafficking, said, “There’s no real government regulation there in Mong La.” “There isn’t any sort of regulation.”
“We are suffering a pandemic as a result of wildlife trade, which isn’t seen as a priority or even as something that is obviously incorrect in many countries.”
China claims that the original spillover event may have happened outside its borders, but critics argue that without Chinese demand and investment, wildlife trade networks in Myanmar and Laos would not exist.
“Many of the illegal wildlife trade markets in neighboring countries are supported by Chinese investment and consumers,” said Amanda Whitfort, an animal protection law specialist at Hong Kong University.