Wildlife consumption ban is insufficient

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Science  27 Mar 2020:
Vol. 367, Issue 6485, pp. 1435
DOI: 10.1126/science.abb6463

On 24 February, China's top legislature comprehensively prohibited the consumption of terrestrial wildlife to protect public health (1). The ban was enacted in response to the outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), which is considered to be linked to wildlife consumption (2). However, a total ban on the consumption of terrestrial wildlife alone is not enough to effectively protect public health from wildlife-associated diseases.

China's wildlife farming industry includes 6.3 million direct practitioners and a total output value of $18 billion (3). Curtailing this activity in a short period of time will be difficult. Conflicts may occur between the private interests of farmers and public health. It is also unclear how to dispose of the farmed animals. Killing them would be inhumane and could pose new risks to human health. Releasing them into unknown habitats in the wild could threaten ecosystem stability. Furthermore, given that banning the wildlife farming industry would threaten economic growth in many regions, implementation will be challenging.

Meanwhile, myriad traditional Chinese medicines are made from wildlife products, such as pangolin scales (4), snake bile (5), and bat feces (6), yet medicinal use of wildlife is not covered by the ban. Disease transmission risks exist during the process of hunting, storing, and transporting such wildlife for medicinal purposes, activities that will continue (6). Even if the ban could be effectively implemented, the traditional medicine industry would continue to threaten wildlife.

In addition to enacting a ban, the Chinese government should manage public health risks caused by wildlife-associated diseases by working together with wildlife protection and animal health agencies and making decisions about wildlife policies based on scientific evidence. Subsidies and financial support should be arranged to facilitate the transformation of the wildlife farming industry required by the ban, as well as made available to help transition away from the production of traditional Chinese medicine. As changes are made, the government should keep information timely and transparent so as to encourage public participation in the reform of the wildlife protection system.

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