What are wet markets and how common are they?

  • A “wet market” is a marketplace selling fresh meat, seafood,  produce and other perishable goods and sometimes having live animals that are butchered and trimmed right at the shops in front of patrons.
  • “Wet markets” (a name which comes from the fact that the floors are washed/hosed down a couple of times daily for cleaning purposes and water/ice is sloshed on produce/meat to keep it cool and fresh are common in many parts of the world, as they are not illegal.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on the wet markets in Asia — specifically Wuhan, China where COVID-19 may have originated— but wet markets can be found in the U.S.
  • New York State has around 80 and California has around 40 with Los Angeles city having anywhere between 15-22 retail outlets that sell live animals for slaughter.
  • The type of animals sold at these markets varies including exotic animals like rats, civets, snakes, cats, pangolins, bats, and even some endangered species. Snakes, frogs,  chickens, turkeys, quails, ducks, squabs, and rabbits are typically found in the LA city wet markets.
  • People who purchase animals from wet markets in the united states do so mostly for cultural or religious beliefs. Also, there is the assumption that fresh meat tastes better than coming from a plant where the meat was packaged and frozen.

What are the public health risks to markets that sell live animals for slaughter?

  • Certain wet markets have been criticized by health experts because they commingle traditional domestic animals with a wide variety of wild animals, which allow disease transmission among animals that would not occur naturally.
  • The circumstances in which customers huddle together in limited spaces to buy animal meat in these markets are quite unsanitary as blood, entrails, excrement, and other wastes from the species mix together creating the potential for the transmission of disease, especially zoonotic diseases.
  • Zoonotic diseases originate in animals and are easily transmittable to humans who come into contact with infected animals, their bodily fluids or surfaces that those animals have touched.
  • Ebola, HIV, bird flu, swine flu, SARS, and COVID-19 all originated in animals.
  • Many animals who appear otherwise healthy can be carriers of various zoonotic diseases.
  • Poor hygiene and animals kept in stressful conditions can lower these animals immune system and make them more susceptible to disease
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control, zoonotic diseases are quite common worldwide, and scientists estimate that three out of every four new or emerging diseases in people come from animals.

What are the animal cruelty implications for wet markets?

  • The methods of keeping and killing the animals on the spot are felt by many to be grossly inhumane, often involving the decapitation of live chickens, turtles, rabbits, frogs, etc. in front of customers and are considered animal cruelty and/or abuse.

Who regulates the wet/live animal markets in the united states

  • The State Department of Food and Agriculture has oversight to regulate these markets but due to a lack of inspectors these markets rarely if ever get inspected unless they receive a complaint.
  • State Humane Officers are called in when they receive complaints of animal cruelty/abuse.

What is the current legislation regarding wet markets

  • Law Makers in CA and NY introduced Bills into legislation that would ban wet markets and exotic wildlife trafficking and exotic wildlife by prohibiting the establishment where animals and or fowls are slaughtered or butchered for food.
  • LA city council passed a motion to come up with a precise definition of the wet market and provide recommendations about which establishments and practices should be prohibited.
  • Two city council members sponsored the motion Bob Blumenfield and Paul Koretz. It’s the first step to prohibiting the sale of living creatures for human consumption in the city of Los Angeles
  • The real target is the sale of live animals, not banning wet markets altogether, along with the on-site slaughter of them, for sale to humans for food, and how the animals are treated.
  • It’s important to establish health and animal welfare standards and practices that represent the concerns of the larger community.
  • Selling bats for consumption is illegal in the U.S., but some states allow certain bat species to be sold as pets. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classify bats as “bush meat,” which is illegal to bring into the U.S. The penalty is a fine of up to $250,000.

Resources: Social Compassion in Legislation- https://socialcompassioninlegislation.org/