In China and Asia, most do not trade in exotic or wild animals and should not be confused with ‘wildlife markets’
Verna Yu in Hong Kong – The Guardian
Workers unload fish at the Wuhan Baishazhou market in China’s Hubei province. Wet markets have come under scrutiny in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. Photograph: Héctor Retamal/AFP via Getty Images
At the crack of dawn every day, “wet markets” in China and across Asia come to life, with stall owners touting their wares such as fresh meat, fish, fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices in an open-air setting.
The sights and sounds of the wet market form part of the rich tapestry of community life, where local people buy affordable food, or just go for a stroll and meet their neighbours for a chat. The markets have come under extra scrutiny following the coronavirus outbreak.
While supermarkets selling chilled or frozen meats are increasingly popular in Asia, older shoppers generally prefer buying freshly slaughtered meat for daily consumption, believing it produces flavour in dishes and soup that is superior to frozen meat. Slabs of beef and pork hang from the butchers’ stalls while various cuts are piled on the counters amid lights with a reddish glare and the occasional buzzing of flies. After widespread avian flu outbreaks in the late 1990s however, Hong Kong and many Chinese provinces have banned the sale of live poultry in markets.
While “wet markets”, where water is sloshed on produce to keep it cool and fresh, may be considered unsanitary by western standards, most do not trade in exotic or wild animals and should not be confused with “wildlife markets” – now the focus of vociferous calls for global bans.
The now-infamous Wuhan South China seafood market, suspected to be a primary source for spreading Covid-19 in late 2019, had a wild animal section where live and slaughtered species were for sale, including snakes, beavers, badgers, civet cats, foxes, peacocks and porcupines among other animals.
The Wuhan market was closed in January and the Chinese authorities placed a temporary ban on all trade in wildlife. But according to recent news reports, some wildlife markets in southern China have reopened amid the pandemic, selling dogs, cats, bats, lizards and scorpions among other species.
Many Chinese continue to believe in the health benefits of consuming meat from wild animals. Two leading Hong Kong microbiologists, Professor Yuen Kwok-yung and Dr David Lung, last month condemned the continuing practice of consuming wild game, warning that “Sars 3.0” could materialise if people do not refrain from eating wild animals.