WHO urges to stop sale of live wild mammals in food markets

Emergency measure to reduce public health risks.

Fiona Tan | April 15, 2021, 09:57 AM

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On Tuesday, Apr. 13, the World Health Organization (WHO) calls on countries to suspend the sale of live wild mammals in food markets to prevent new diseases, like Covid-19, from emerging.

This came after their studies found a high correlation between samples from the Wuhan market and the Covid-19 outbreak, where the market likely played a significant role in accelerating the outbreak even though the origin of the virus is still undetermined.

Infectious diseases traced to wild animals

In their report, WHO, along with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), found that most novel infectious diseases originate from wild animals.

"Animals, particularly wild animals, are the source of more than 70 per cent of all emerging infectious diseases in humans, many of which are caused by novel viruses. Wild mammals, in particular, pose a risk for the emergence of new diseases."

While still unclear on how the virus was transferred from wild animals to humans, the three agencies recommend abolishing the sale of live wild mammals in food markets.

This reduces the risks to the health of a large number of people who rely on markets for food and income, and it prevents the emergence of of new viruses in humans and similar outbreaks.

"WHO, OIE and UNEP call on all national competent authorities to suspend the trade in live caught wild animals of mammalian species for food or breeding and close sections of food markets selling live caught wild animals of mammalian species as an emergency measure unless demonstrable effective regulations and adequate risk assessment are in place."

Market conditions conducive for transmissions from animals to humans

While food markets are regulated and obliged to comply with food safety standards, the sale and handling of live wild animals could lead to a slew of problems.

Live wild animals are often slaughtered in the space they have been kept in, which could host transmissible pathogens and possibly be contaminated with body fluids and waste excreted.

Along with the abolishing of live wild mammals, WHO, OIE and UNEP propose improving the hygiene standards of food markets and enforcing tougher regulations on farmed animals and the wild animals trade.

Additionally, relevant personnel such as food and veterinary inspectors should be trained to enforce these regulations.

The three organisations also call for increased vigilance for animal viruses and greater educational efforts for consumers and food traders.

Live wild animal in Singapore's markets

Since 1992, live wild mammals in Singapore, such as live poultry, are processed in centralised slaughterhouse and are no longer available in wet markets.

However, the sale of live turtles, bullfrogs and eels can be found at a stall in Chinatown Complex's wet market.

This stall along with three others across Singapore are the last of what remains in Singapore's live animal sales since NEA stopped tendering out wet market stalls for such sales in 2012.

These stall vendors are required to comply with the Environmental Public Health Act to ensure proper food safety and hygiene.

Additionally, regular inspections are conducted to enforce these standards. Necessary action will be taken by authorities should violations be identified.

Last May, Senior Minister of State for the then-Environment and Water Resources (now known as the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment) Amy Khor said in Parliament that the ministry is reviewing the sale and slaughter of live animals at wet markets to improve safety standards.

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