By – Ananya Singh
Until earlier this year, most of the people had never heard of the term “wet market” but the coronavirus pandemic has upshot it into the limelight.
The noble coronavirus, which has infected close to 168 million people globally with the number still rising, is expected to have originated in the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market- a wet market within the city of Wuhan, where wild animal were being sold and slaughtered for food and medicine.
Wet markets- a recipe for disaster?
“Wet markets” are the markets where water and ice are used to keep the meat of slaughtered animals fresh as distinguished from “dry markets” that sell durable goods such as fabric and electronics.
As per People for Ethnic Treatment of Animals (PETA), “These live animal markets are essentially blood-soaked slaughterhouses where the buyer can choose live animals like chickens, rabbits, deer, fish, dogs who are then slaughtered upon purchase.”
Many such Live-Animal Markets and Wildlife Meat Markets which are filled with bodily fluids, raw meat, and sick, stressed animals have been operating in India too which might create breeding grounds for emerging zoonotic disease.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines zoonosis as an infection naturally transmissible from vertebrate animals to humans having the potential to cause a global pandemic, disruption to life, property, and economy, and also pose a significant threat to wildlife.
“3 out of 4 new or emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals” Report of Zoonotic Diseases Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mechanism of transfer
In these places Turtles, frogs Ducks, geese, pigeons, and fish, etc. are traded and crammed in dirty conditions like stacked cages and killed, bringing together species that would never live together in the wild, creating the perfect breeding ground for zoonotic disease and can be easily spread to handlers or customers through bodily fluids.
Numerous past disease outbreaks having zoonotic origins include Ebola, Nipah Virus, H1N1 (swine flu), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
According to scientists, there is inter-species travel of such pathogens till the point it can mutate and adapt itself to the human body and causes disease.
Wet markets in India
India is a huge market for meat consumption, total meat produced in 2019 was approximately around 8.11 metric tonnes. Besides traditional poultry, that’s bovine and fish sources some protected species were also illegally traded for food in wet markets across the country.
Ghazipur Murga mandi in Delhi, Keera Bazaar, the sale of live crabs and eels in Malancha fish market West Bengal, and Mao Dog meat markets in Nagaland, Nute Bazaar in Manipur which openly sell the charred remains of wild animals including monkeys, wild boars, porcupines, and deer are the most notable wet markets in India which operate under extremely unhygienic conditions. Large illegal trade for presumed medical benefits of certain animals or their parts threatens them to near extinction.
According to the Down to Earth Report the sale of turtle meat is rampant in West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, and parts of Uttar Pradesh.
In New Delhi, Down to Earth documented five diverse animal rights groups were campaigning to shut down the live animal pet or meat markets:
- People for Animals, a wildlife rescue and conservation group;
- Humane Society International India, which campaigns against the trade in dogs and cat meat;
- Mercy for animals India Foundation which is against factory farms;
- Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations; and
- The Ahimsa Trust, inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh, the renowned Buddhist.
Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972
It deals with the regulations for the welfare of wildlife in the wet market, transactions that are considered legal in the wet market, and inter-agency cooperation between wildlife authorities and customs authorities.
Trade and Commerce of over 1800 species of wildlife, plants, and derivatives are prohibited under this act.
Section 38 of the act stipulates that wild animals are government property. Section 49B prohibits unlicensed dealing under the act about any captive animals or meat derived from such animals.
Sanitary status of markets
Food Safety and Standards Act 2006
Section 4 of the act establishes the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) as an autonomous body under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. One of FSSAI’s injunctions is to formulate food safety standards. It deals with licensing, registration, maintenance of records, inter-agency inspection, and enforcement actions and regulations on the storage of different types of wildlife. This act assured the closure of illegal slaughterhouses and butcher shops. Such businesses now required to obtain proper licenses and need to follow hygiene-related guidelines set by the Food
Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).
The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Slaughter House) Rules, 2001
This stipulates that a veterinarian must certify that the animal is healthy and disease-free before it is slaughtered for meat
India already has the legal foundation at the union, state, and municipal levels only need is, effective implementation and enforcement on the ground level.
“Wet markets can aid the spread of epidemics, the positives outweigh the risks, and the world should be more focused on improving the markets’ integrity and cleanliness rather than shutting them down,” said WHO food safety and animal diseases expert Dr. Peter Ben Embarek.
The only way to make these markets safe is not to close them this may even do more harm than benefit as these animal markets are critical to providing food and food is a choice, people cannot be compelled to become vegetarian also it will impact the livelihood of millions of people globally.
Since wet markets are not likely to close down the way forward is their regulation and strict enforcement of current legislation:
- Periodic supervision or inspection of slaughterhouses functioning in various parts of the country.
- Proper data on the actual number of registered slaughterhouses in the country.
- Documentation of policies and procedures on risk-based inspections by FSSAI and the state food authorities.
- Arrangement of proper infrastructure at food laboratories entrusted with food testing and certification functions.
- Appointment of qualified food analysts in food laboratories.
- Lab-grown or “cultured meat” could be a bridge between real meat and plant-based products. This alternative needs to be explored.
Keeping in mind the potential of wet markets to trigger the next pandemic, concerned authorities should focus on improving the sanitary conditions at the wet market. It is time to reconsider the regulations at the live market and blanket ban on unlicensed buying and selling of scheduled wild animals and their derivatives.
- https://www.india.com/viral/just-like-chinas-wuhan-india-too-has-many-wet-markets-which-could-trigger-the-next-pandemic-4156218/; https://www.india.com/viral/who-says-its-ok-to-keep-wet-markets-open-despite-their-possible-role-in-covid-19-spread-4025579/
By – Ananya Singh
-Bsc. Life Science ,Batch-2019-22