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China Vowed to Keep Wildlife Off the Menu, a Tough Promise to Keep

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The government has already made exceptions for the use of wild animals for fur and traditional Chinese medicine, including the use of bear bile as a treatment for Covid-19.

STEVEN LEE MYERS: China has been lauded for suspending the wildlife trade, but the move has left millions of workers… in the lurch. Their economic fate, along with major loopholes in the government’s restrictions, are threatening to undermine China’s pledge to impose a permanent ban. China’s legislature, the National People’s Congress, adjourned its annual session late last month without adopting new laws that would end the trade. Instead, the congress issued a directive to study the enforcement of current rules as it drafts legislation, a process that could take a year or more.

The delay is raising fears that China may repeat the experience of the SARS epidemic in 2003, when the country banned sales of an animal linked to the outbreak — the palm civet — only to quietly let the decree lapse a few months later after the crisis peaked… “The momentum is not favorable,” said Peter J. Li, an associate professor at the University of Houston-Downtown and a China policy adviser for the Humane Society International. In moving to restrict the wildlife trade, China’s government is fighting deeply rooted cultural and culinary traditions, including a canon of ancient literature extolling the medicinal benefits of ingesting animals like bears, tigers and rhinoceroses…

The Ministry of Agriculture last week removed dogs from its “white list” of approved domesticated livestock — a victory for those who have campaigned against the tradition of eating dog meat. But it also added two new species previously considered wild, emus and Muscovy duck, allowing for them to still be sold… At the end of January, the national government ordered markets to stop selling live animals — though it made an exemption for fish, crabs and other seafood. A month later, as the death toll began to soar, it announced that it would suspend the trade in all terrestrial wild animals. Mr. Xi himself called for an end to the tradition. “We have long recognized the risks of consuming wildlife,” he said in February, “but the game industry is still huge and poses a major public health hazard.”

While directives from the Communist Party leadership are rarely challenged openly, a permanent ban has powerful constituencies and interests arrayed against it. There are already signs of internal debates… The government has already made exceptions for the use of wild animals for fur and traditional Chinese medicine, which the Communist Party authorities have actively promoted, including the use of bear bile as a treatment for Covid-19… Wildlife breeding has become a big business, worth nearly $8 billion according to an estimate in 2017. Finding alternative jobs and income will be a daunting task, especially in the wake of the pandemic. SOURCE…

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