|This file photo shows civet cats -- which scientists have linked to the 2003 SARS outbreak -- for sale at a market in China.|
On Monday, officials announced a temporary suspension of the trade nationwide, which will not be lifted "until the epidemic is declared over." Violators could face criminal prosecution.
Much coverage of the trade, particularly in the western tabloid press, has been sensationalist, often featuring misleading videos or photos that have no connection to Wuhan or the current outbreak. One widely shared video, of a Chinese travel blogger eating bat stoup, was filmed in the Pacific island nation of Palau, and the dish has been featured and sampled by western TV hosts in the past.
There has also been a tendency to conflate the eating of non-endangered wild animals with the trade in elephant and rhino parts, which is illegal in China, as in most countries. The former may be foreign and even gross to some, but it's not necessarily any more unethical than eating other meat, especially given the poor conditions on some factory farms.
Another point that has been overlooked in much breathless coverage of wild animal meat is how niche its consumption is in China. Indeed, many of the comments on western social media have been mirrored (without the racist undercurrent) on Chinese platforms, where #RejectGameMeat quickly went viral and those who consumed such products were denounced as irresponsible, dirty, or worse.
Nor does the wild animal trade -- if indeed it was the genesis of the current coronavirus -- have a monopoly on deadly pathogens. Both swine and bird flu came from animals widely consumed around the world, as James Palmer points out in Foreign Policy.
This context matters, because as any person of Chinese or Asian heritage abused for being "dog eaters" knows, such stories quickly become a way to other entire cultures and ethnicities. (Eating dog, by the way, is incredibly rare in much of China, and even the majority of people in the one town that actively promotes it don't eat the meat.)