World Animal Protection calls on WHO to ban wildlife markets

As the world continues to fight COVID-19, more than 200 organizations, including World Animal Protection, Humane Society International and Born Free have issued a letter urging the World Health Organization to endorse a permanent ban on live wildlife markets and the use of wildlife in traditional medicine.

The letter, sent on World Health Day (April 7), highlights that, with the suspected COVID-19 link to a live wildlife market in China, WHO must take action to achieve its mission to serve public health at all times by recommending that governments worldwide permanently ban live wildlife markets and the use of wildlife in traditional medicine.

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These actions would help protect human life from future pandemics such as COVID-19, according to the organizations. Sixty percent of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, meaning they originate from animals and 70 per cent of those are thought to originate from wild animals, a press release states. 

“While a robust global response is critical in detecting, treating and reducing transmission [of COVID-19], it is equally necessary to take vital measures to prevent similar emerging infectious diseases developing into pandemics with the associated threats to human life and social and economic well-being," the letter states.

The organizations are adamant a  ban on wildlife markets is urgently needed to prevent the unregulated and unhygienic conditions and the close proximity between humans and animals that provides the opportunity for pathogens to spread.

According to those groups, this risk is further exacerbated by cruel conditions in which animals are typically farmed or collected from the wild, transported to and kept at such markets. This inevitably results in large numbers of different species being held in close proximity, causing immense stress and weakening of their immune systems, they state.

“We all commend WHO's efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19. Given this pandemic is believed to have originated at a wildlife market, we're calling on WHO to unequivocally state the proven link between these markets and the serious threats they can cause to human health,” Gilbert Sape, head of the Wildlife Not Medicine campaign at World Animal Protection says.

Sape continues that WHO can help prevent future pandemics by excluding the use of wildlife from their endorsement of traditional medicine, especially as plant-based alternatives are available. This could help save lives in the future and help protect millions of wild animals that are unnecessarily and cruelly farmed or poached from the wild to supply this industry. 

These organizations strongly urge WHO to:

• Recommend to governments worldwide that they institute a permanent ban on live wildlife markets, drawing an unequivocal link between these markets and their proven threats to human health.

• Recommend to governments that they address the potential risks to human health from the trade in wildlife ‑‑ including collection from the wild, ranching, farming, transport and trade through physical or online markets for any purpose – and act to close down or limit such trade in order to mitigate those risks.

• Unequivocally exclude the use of wildlife, including from captive bred specimens, in WHO's definition and endorsement of traditional medicine and revise WHO's 2014-2023 Traditional Medicine Strategy accordingly to reflect this change.

• Assist governments and lead a co-ordinated response among the World Trade Organization, World Organization for Animal Health and other multilateral organizations worldwide in awareness-raising activities to clearly inform of the risks of wildlife trade to public health, social cohesion, economic stability, law and order and individual health.

• Support and encourage initiatives that deliver alternative sources of protein to subsistence consumers of wild animals in order to further reduce the risk to human health.

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