Just what, exactly, is a ‘wet market,’ and should they be illegal in China?

Wet market for seafood, Singapore. (Photo credit: AngMoKio/Wikimedia Commons)
Wet market for seafood, Singapore. (Photo credit: AngMoKio/Wikimedia Commons)

The conventional wisdom is that the coronavirus behind the COVID-19 pandemic jumped to human beings from animals sold for food in an open-air “wet market” in Wuhan, China.

China has subsequently been widely criticized for permitted wet markets to remain open.

Yet it turns out that these types of marketplaces are not the problem — rather, the issue is the sale of wildlife that’s been harvested for food.

That practice has in fact been banned across China, but confusion reigns as to what, exactly a wet market is in the first place.

A ‘wet market’ is not necessarily a place to buy wildlife

The Huanan seafood wholesale market in Wuhan, China, is where initial cases of COVID-19 were identified.

It is not formally considered a wet market, but it was a place where wildlife was sold for food.

The term “wet market” originated in Hong Kong, and refers to regulated, inspected, open-air food markets found across Asia.

They’re places to buy food of all sorts, including livestock and seafood, and speculation abounds as to why they’re called “wet.”

In some readings, it’s due to the fact that you don’t get dry goods at such marketplaces, but rather fresh cuts of beef, pork, seafood — or poultry that’s slaughtered on the spot, to order.

Wet market in Hong Kong. (Photo credit: FuriousGeorge1/Wikimedia Commons)

According to another derivation, such markets are wet because they are constantly hosed down by vendors, and full of melting ice used to keep all the food products fresh.

Wildlife for sale

One way or the other, it is specifically the sale of wild animals that is considered the most likely source of the coronavirus.

The practice has now been banned in China — though selling wild animals for food is only one part of a much bigger problem.

Wild animals also make it legally into traditional Chinese medicine, and are still available online.

Sometimes exotic animals are farmed, in conditions which are often cruel and unhygienic.

The larger trade in exotic animals for pets, and even leather, also offer abundant pathways for pathogens such as the novel coronavirus to jump to domestic animals, and then to humans — or directly from exotic animals to humans.

Sources: National Geographic, Quartz

%d bloggers like this: