Not Even Now, Not Even Only the “Wet” Markets

Many wildlife and conservation groups view the Covid-19 pandemic as a great opportune moment to close down live animal markets (‘wet markets’), if not all wildlife trade.
These claims have received some tailwind from some politicians, lawmakers, and health officials who called the World Health Organization to order a shutdown of live animal markets. Of course much of that is due to political interests related to the U.S.-China trade war, as many American politicians focused solely on Chinese live animal markets instead of all of them, or all the wildlife trade. But anyway The WHO pushed back on the calls to ban these markets, saying that they need to be “well regulated and managed”, not closed down.

Many animal liberation groups also view this pandemic as a great opportune moment, but obviously they are making a much broader and more accurate connection between pandemics and animal consumption, calling to close down all the factory farms as they are the ideal environment for zoonotic pathogens (animal-borne pathogens that can infect humans) to develop and spread.

Another motive of animal liberation groups might be the fear that if only live animals markets would be closed down, since humans’ desire for animal flesh won’t go down with it, that means that at least some of the humans who consume animals’ flesh in these markets would get more of it from factory farms. So this call might actually end up increasing animal suffering.

But there is no need to rack your brains over this as none of it is going to happen. Even the current pandemic won’t make humanity decide to close down the live animal markets, not to mention stop consuming animal based food. No matter what the results of this pandemic are, even the live animal markets won’t be closed down permanently, and certainly not factory farms.
It is highly unlikely that even the live animal markets in New York City – one of the greatest epicenters of the pandemic (and where there are more than 80 of those) – will be closed down, not to mention the rest of the world.
In fact, in China, including in Wuhan itself, as soon as the lockdown was lifted after the Chinese authorities have gotten a better handle on the outbreak in their territory, people began repurchasing animals’ flesh from live animal markets.
An unnamed source was reported saying that “The markets have gone back to operating in exactly the same way as they did before coronavirus. The only difference is that security guards try to stop anyone taking pictures which would never have happened before.”
That was the situation during the two months since the lockdown was lifted and until two weeks ago, when finally a decision regarding wet markets was announced. However it wasn’t to close all of them down. The new regulations are merely regarding the ones of Wuhan, merely regarding terrestrial animals (and not marine animals which are a significant part of these markets), merely regarding wild animals (and not “farm animals” which are also a significant part of these markets), and merely temporarily (for 5 years only).
And the worst thing about these new regulations, in an historical and global perspective, is that this meager change would probably be the greatest one following this pandemic.

Mark Jones from the Born Free Foundation said “Once Covid-19 is hopefully behind us, returning to business as usual cannot be an option.” But when it comes to humans, not returning to business as usual is not an option. Nothing was learned from past pandemics or other global crises. During the 2008 financial crisis, many people made similar statements, claiming that once this crisis is behind us, returning to business as usual is not an option. But apparently it is. In many senses business has returned to usual.

Another seemingly optimistic news is that according to some surveys conducted in Asia, about 90% of people support closing down markets, but only illegal and unregulated ones, not live animal markets in general, and definitely not factory farms. And even that tone is going to change once this pandemic is behind us. Best case scenario is that in the first few months these markets would be more regulated, and then even that would fade. It is hardly likely that anything significant would change for the better.

Many activists are seizing the moment and are asking isn’t the Coronavirus, along with Swine flu, Bird flu, Salmonella, heart diseases and etc., sufficient for people to understand? When will people realize that animal consumption is harmful in so many ways? The answer is that it is the wrong question. It is not about realizing the truth, it is about wanting to act accordingly. The problem is not of awareness. The relevant question, given that people know that animal consumption is harmful in so many ways, is – when would they ever stop consuming animals? And the answer to that is probably never.
Even though the origin of most of the pandemics is animal exploitation, and that by far the most prevalent way for diseases to develop and spread is through the food industry, people would not stop exploiting and eating animals.

However, activists are right that this pandemic is a great opportune moment. It is an opportune moment to realize how low is humanity’s potential for making changes in its cruel habits (despite how essential and obvious they are and for so many reasons), and how high is the potential of a pandemic to force these changes upon it (in case of a different pathogen). The fact that even such a pandemic, which spread so rapidly and reached every corner of the globe despite that it was caused unintentionally, won’t change humanity’s mind regarding animal exploitation, should change activists’ mind about how a pandemic can change animal exploitation if it is caused intentionally and elaborately.
The Covid-19 won’t be the solution because it won’t cause humanity to realize they must stop eating animals, even for their own sake. But another pathogen, one that would spread much more rapidly and would be much more lethal, could be the solution.

Some activists say that had we lived in a vegan world we wouldn’t be in this pandemic, but the truth is that only a pandemic can bring about a truly vegan world,  one in which no animal would be exploited by no human ever again.

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