New risk to public health and biodiversity if China eases post-Covid restrictions on wildlife farming

China has been easing certain coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions but the nation’s fight against the deadly virus is far from over. China, where the Covid case was first reported in late 2019, struggled to curb the spread of cases and imposed the strict “Zero-Covid” policy.  

However, the authorities started relaxing some of the measures in the aftermath of the recent public outrage and massive protests in different parts of the nation, which started after the deadly apartment fire in the country’s far west. 

But the experts and some NGOs have warned Beijing that the nation’s attempt to loosen the post-Covid restrictions on the farming of wildlife might raise a new risk to public health and biodiversity. 

Before the pandemic, government agencies in China promoted wildlife farming, for example, porcupines, civets and bamboo rats, which was deemed an easy way for rural Chinese people to get rich. 

But bans on hunting, trading and transporting wildlife were imposed by China. When claims and counterclaims by health experts suggested that the virus could have originated from the supply chain, the authorities also banned the consumption of wildlife. 

The impact of the ban was huge, as around 14 million people worked in the wildlife farming industry before the Covid restrictions, The Guardian reported, adding that the industry is worth an estimated £60bn. 

As quoted by the British media outlet, the experts have said that the ban covers almost 1,800 animals which have important ecological, economic and social values. But they added that the consumption of wildlife as food has been lying in a grey area. 

The report mentioned that if the farmers get a government-approved licence, they could still captively breed a smaller number of exempted animals on the banned list, such as silver foxes and raccoon dogs. 

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As quoted by the report, Yang Heqing, a National People’s Congress official, said that at the time when regulations do ban eating species from unlawful sources or under protection, they do not say whether the “eating of animals with the three values or other terrestrial wildlife not under a specific type of protection is legal or not. This creates a loophole.” 

As per the report, NGOs and experts claimed that a more recent update to the Wildlife Protection Law has now eased restrictions on the farming of wildlife. 

A public statement from the Shan Shui Conservation Center, a Chinese NGO dedicated to species and ecosystem conservation, noted: “Under the second draft, the farming of wildlife with the three values doesn’t need to get approved. You just need to register. And if something goes wrong, you’ll only need to rectify the problem within a given period of time,” 

“We worry that such changes will weaken the supervision and protection of animals with the three values, thus impacting wild populations,” the statement added. 

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