Ban live wild animal meat markets

Hundreds of wildlife groups worldwide sign open letter to WHO calling for a ban on wildlife meat trade to stop future potential global pandemics.

We need to dig deep and reset our fundamental relationship with the natural world. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) should recommend governments shut down wild animal markets to prevent future pandemics, conservationists have said.

More than 200 wildlife groups across the world have signed an open letter calling on WHO to do all it can to prevent new diseases emerging from the wildlife trade and spreading into global pandemics.

The evidence suggests Covid-19 has animal origins, likely from bats, and may have come from "wet markets" where live and dead creatures are sold for eating, leading to a temporary ban on the markets by the Chinese government.


Previous global epidemics including severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and Ebola have also been linked to viruses that spread from animals to people.

The letter calls on WHO to recommend to governments worldwide that they bring in permanent bans on live wildlife markets and act to close down or limit trade in wildlife to reduce the threat to human health.

The groups also want the use of wildlife, including from captive-bred animals, to be "unequivocally" excluded from the organisation's definition and endorsement of traditional medicine.

Conservationists also said the WHO should work with governments and international bodies such as the World Trade Organisation to raise awareness of the risks the wildlife trade poses to human health and society.

It should also support and encourage initiatives that deliver alternative sources of protein to people who survive on eating wild animals, in order to further reduce the risk to human health.


The letter has been co-ordinated by wildlife charity Born Free and its Lion Coalition partners, and backed by organisations including the Bat Conservation Trust, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

Dr Mark Jones, head of policy at Born Free, said markets selling live wild animals were found in many countries but had rapidly expanded and become more commercial, increasing the risks to human and animal health.

The trade in wild animals is also a major contributor to global declines in wildlife and has severe consequences for the welfare of millions of individual animals, he said.

"We need to dig deep and reset our fundamental relationship with the natural world, rethink our place in it and treat our planet and all its inhabitants with a great deal more respect, for its sake and for ours.

"Once Covid-19 is hopefully behind us, returning to business as usual cannot be an option."


Separate research by wildlife charity WWF found high levels of public support in Asia for closing illegal and unregulated wildlife markets and the trade in wild animals.

A survey conducted in March among 5,000 participants from Hong Kong, Japan, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam found 93% supported action by their governments to eliminate illegal and unregulated markets.

Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International, said: "People are deeply worried and would support their governments in taking action to prevent potential future global health crises originating in wildlife markets.

"Taking action now for humans as well as the many wildlife species threatened by consumption and trade is crucial for all of our survival."

Brendan Montague, editor of The Ecologist, added: "Those of us who are in the global North need to also examine how our meat industry and its practices - such as the use of pesticides, hormones and antibiotics - are risking both biodiversity collapse and future human health crises."

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Emily Beament is the PA environment correspondent.

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