China Vowed to Keep Wildlife Off the Menu, a Tough Promise to Keep
The government has moved slowly to permanently stop the sale and consumption of wild animals in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic, raising fears the practice may continue.
Bamboo rats lifted Mao Zuqin out of poverty. Now, because of the coronavirus pandemic, poverty threatens again.
Mr. Mao has over the past five years built a viable farm in southern China with 1,100 bamboo rats, a chubby, edible rodent that is a delicacy in the region. Then, in February, China’s government suspended the sale and consumption of wildlife, farmed or captured, abruptly freezing a trade identified as the likely source of the outbreak.
He still has to feed them, though, and has no way to cover his costs or his investments.
“I’m up to my ears in debt,” he said.
China has been lauded for suspending the wildlife trade, but the move has left millions of workers like Mr. Mao in the lurch. Their economic fate, along with major loopholes in the government’s restrictions, are threatening to undermine China’s pledge to impose a permanent ban.
China’s legislature, the National People’s Congress, adjourned its annual session late last month without adopting new laws that would end the trade. Instead, the congress issued a directive to study the enforcement of current rules as it drafts legislation, a process that could take a year or more.
The delay is raising fears that China may repeat the experience of the SARS epidemic in 2003, when the country banned sales of an animal linked to the outbreak — the palm civet — only to quietly let the decree lapse a few months later after the crisis peaked.
“The momentum is not favorable,” said Peter J. Li, an associate professor at the University of Houston-Downtown and a China policy adviser for the Humane Society International.
In moving to restrict the wildlife trade, China’s government is fighting deeply rooted cultural and culinary traditions, including a canon of ancient literature extolling the medicinal benefits of ingesting animals like bears, tigers and rhinoceroses.
The pandemic spread from a market in Wuhan, where animals were sold from cages and slaughtered on the spot, in less than ideal sanitary conditions, because of a premium placed on freshness.
While directives from the Communist Party leadership are rarely challenged openly, a permanent ban has powerful constituencies and interests arrayed against it. There are already signs of internal debates.
Some cities have moved ahead with bans on hunting and selling wild game, including Beijing last week. Wuhan also announced a five-year ban. In rural regions like Mr. Mao’s, though省略1200字。