The Chinese Government shut wildlife markets across the country in the wake of the global outbreak of COVID-19. But officials in China are under mounting pressure to ease the rules on the wildlife-farming industry – which is estimated to be worth £60billion. The industry of breading wild animals, including snakes for food and medicine, provides income to around 15 million people in China, who are often amongst the poorest in society.
Prior to the pandemic the industry had been promoted by Beijing as a way of tackling poverty in rural areas.
A snake farmer spoke about the devastating economic impact the ban has had on the ability to feed her child as families now struggle to make ends meet.
Speaking to the BBC, she said: “I’ve lost a lot of money. I can’t even afford milk powder for my baby. I can only feed her with porridge and meat.”
Experts suspect coronavirus may have been passed to humans from wild animals.
The World Health Organinsation was alerted by China about an outbreak in December 2019.
Some of the earliest infections were found in people who had exposure to a wildlife market in the central city of Wuhan, where bats, snakes, civets and other animals were sold.
Some scientists believe the virus may have originated from a pangolin before being transmitted to humans.
Beijing has since granted the highest-level of protection to the mammal, which is regularly hunted for its meat and scales.
The Chinese Government announced a ban out the trade and consumption of wild animals in February.
At the time Zhang Tiewei, a spokesman for the top legislature’s Legislative Affairs Commission, said: “There has been a growing concern among people over the consumption of wild animals and the hidden dangers it brings to public health security since the novel coronavirus disease outbreak.”
In April, China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs went further and changed its animal classification to ensue dogs are no longer classed as livestock.
The Ministry said: “As far as dogs are concerned, along with the progress of human civilisation and the public concern and love for animal protection, dogs have been ‘specialised’ to become companion animals.
Chinese activists visiting the 10-day festival estimated 400 dog and 200 cat carcasses were being sold each day.
In March at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organisation recommended reducing the risk of transmission of emerging pathogens from animals to humans in live animal markets.
In a statement, the WHO said: “The virus which causes COVID-19 most probably has its ecological reservoir in bats, and transmission of the virus to humans has likely occurred through an intermediate animal host – a domestic animal, a wild animal or a domesticated wild animal which has not yet been identified.”
According the latest figures coronavirus has infected more than 32 million people around the world with more than 980,000 deaths.