The latest outbreak has prompted calls to ban wild meat, but that won’t address a deeper social problem.
It’s not known yet how, exactly, the current coronavirus outbreak got started. The viral pneumonia, called 2019-nCoV for now, belongs to the virus family that also gave birth to SARS and MERS. As with the SARS outbreak in 2002–03, it’s likely this new coronavirus originated in bats, with an intermediary animal that transmitted the altered virus to humans—an event called a “spillover.” As a result, one focus has been on the wildlife and food market in Wuhan, in central China, which Gao Fu, director of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, blamed last week for the outbreak. The Wuhan market was closed down earlier this month after several vendors contracted the viral pneumonia. All markets and restaurants in China are strictly prohibited from trading and selling wild meat as long as the epidemic continues. Some, including conservationists, would like to see China go a step further by instituting a permanent global ban on wildlife sale and consumption.
There are a few problems with the intense focus on these so-called wet markets, featuring live and dead animals, farm-raised and wild. International scapegoating of Chinese eating habits, as Foreign Policy pointed out earlier this week, can often be tinged with racism. And it’s not certain yet that the spillover originated with wild meat slaughter or consumption. But even if it did, a ban on wild meat won’t stop the current epidemic, which is now passing from person to person. And if similar past epidemics are any indication, a long-term ban could do more harm than good. Read more at The New Republic.
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