Parliamentarian suggests global ban on animal markets

Parliamentarian suggests global ban on animal markets

Swedish Member of the European (MEP) Parliament Tomas Tobe of the European People’s Party (EPP) called for a global ban on wildlife markets, such as the one in Wuhan, China, believed to be the starting point of the coronavirus outbreak, in order to protect human health and to prevent future pandemics.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is an acute threat to public health the world over. Europe has been forced to lock down large parts of the economy and impose unprecedented restrictions on society to prevent contagion. Despite the measures taken, COVID-19 has killed hundreds of thousands of people across Europe, and almost 1 million globally.

This pandemic could have been avoided.

For a long time, the European Union was aware that animal markets in China presented a risk to public health worldwide. Where domesticated and wild animals are mixed together under poor sanitary conditions, a perfect environment is created to enable a virus to be transmitted from animal to human. Despite this, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) did not take the necessary measures to close its animal markets.

Lessons need to be learned from the current crisis. Europe must build more resilient societies, but above all, it must reduce the risk of a fresh pandemic occurring in future.

In April 2020, Swedish MEP Tomas Tobe filed a parliamentary question to the European Commission requesting clarification on the “initiatives and measures” that need to be taken “to bring about a global ban on animal markets which are liable to spread infectious diseases”. MEP Tobe asked the Commission if it would “propose new measures to step up the sanitary and phytosanitary requirements applicable in third countries to foodstuffs to be imported into the EU, in order to protect human health, even if they are not directly motivated by food-safety considerations?”

In June, EU Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides, on behalf of the European Commission, answered that “the Chinese Authorities and the international scientific community cannot yet confirm the origin of COVID-19” and that according to the information received from the Chinese authorities, “China closed many of the so-called wet markets, including in Wuhan and surrounding areas, and took measures to ban trade and consumption of wild animals”.

Commissioner Kyriakides clarified that “imports into the EU of live animals and products of animal origin from China, are very limited due to the presence in that country of infectious animal diseases” and noted that “with regard to the food of animal origin, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) advise against trade restrictions based on the information available”.

The Commissioner also reported that “a detailed risk assessment carried out by the European Food Safety Authority came to the same conclusion” and that “there is no evidence that food is a source of COVID-19”.

Commissioner Kyriakides highlighted that “it is worth recalling the sovereignty of trade partners that can take measures concerning their own territories that may not correspond to EU requests” and underlined that “a full set of health import requirements are laid down in the EU legislation to protect animal and public health in the EU from risks of introduction of dangerous pathogens”.

The Commissioner further reported that the EU legislation is in line with international standards set by the OIE, is science-based and is constantly reviewed in order to keep it updated with new scientific knowledge to safeguard animal and public health in the EU and the Commission will continue to cooperate intensively with WHO and other partners, including China, to share scientific information on the source and spread of COVID-19 and best practices on its control. China itself is aware of the risks and dangers associated with its consumption of wild animals and the wet market environments which breed disease and viral infection. However, due to the economic gains in this lucrative sector the CCP is allowing, and has even promoted such practices. As MEP Tobe suggests, an international ban on such markets must at least be discussed. 

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