When a novel coronavirus was first reported as having been contracted by people in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, there was a lot of discussion about the potential source of the virus. On January 12, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a statement saying that “[t]he evidence is highly suggestive that the outbreak is associated with exposures in one seafood market in Wuhan.” Subsequent reporting and studies involved detailed discussions of the sanitary conditions and types of animals sold at the particular market in Wuhan and in similar markets elsewhere, and people became familiar with what may have been a new term for many: “wet market.” This is a broad term that captures many different types of markets, but generally refers to markets, or parts of larger markets, where fresh food, including meat and possibly live animals, are sold and the floor is wet from the water or ice used for cleaning and for keeping produce cool.
Of particular concern in the context of the novel coronavirus and other zoonoses (diseases that can spread from animals to humans) has been the sale of “wild” or “exotic” animals, either alive or the meat of such animals (sometimes called “bushmeat” or “game meat”), at wet markets or other types of traditional markets in different countries. A new report by research staff at the Law Library of Congress, Regulation of Wild Animal Wet Markets, examines aspects of the regulation of such trade, including wildlife protection laws, hunting laws, food safety laws, and market management and sanitation laws. It covers 28 jurisdictions around the world, including countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, South and Central America, and Europe.
The report demonstrates that there are the different cultural practices and regulatory approaches related to the trading and consumption of wild animal meat. In many of the jurisdictions surveyed, permit systems apply in the context of hunting and selling unprotected wildlife, with some countries also regulating the breeding and raising of wild animals for commercial purposes. There have also been bans on the sale and/or consumption of wild meat, at least on a temporary basis, in several countries in response to certain disease outbreaks.
Governments at the national and/or local level have set up regulatory and inspection systems for establishments that sell fresh food. Three countries covered in the report – China, Indonesia, and Thailand – have specific regulations that apply to wet markets. These include various requirements related to hygiene and sanitation. In some countries, including China and Egypt, certain markets were shut down for a period of time in response to the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak, while other countries, such as India and Pakistan, issued new guidance on health and preventative measures for markets.
Market sanitation, and particularly the regulation of the types of animals or meat that can be sold at such markets, as well as the enforcement of relevant requirements and restrictions, is likely to be an issue of ongoing discussion and concern. The Law Library’s report provides a snapshot of the situation in jurisdictions around the world as they continue to grapple with the current COVID-19 pandemic. The Law Library has published multiple other resources regarding legal aspects of countries’ responses to the pandemic, including on this blog and in the Global Legal Monitor. You can sign up to receive alerts when new blog posts, articles, and reports are published by clicking the “Subscribe” button at the top of this page or on our website at law.gov.