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WHO appeals for pause on sale of live wild animals in markets

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The World Health Organization (WHO) and other agencies are calling on countries to suspend the sale of certain live caught wild animals in food markets.

WHO, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) issued guidance for national food safety authorities to make traditional markets safer and reduce public health risks.

The document focuses on the risk of disease emergence in wet markets where live mammals are sold for food. It does not cover aquatic species such as fish.

The agencies said trade in live caught wild animals for food should be suspended and sections of markets selling such products should be closed unless effective regulations and adequate risk assessments are in place.

Temporary action
Measures should be temporary while authorities conduct an assessment of each market to identify areas and practices that contribute to the transmission of zoonotic pathogens. Markets should only be allowed to reopen when they meet required food safety, hygiene, and environmental standards and comply with regulations.

Traditional food markets are a major source of fresh foods for many low-income groups and are important in the livelihoods of millions in urban and rural settings.

There is no evidence consumption of food is implicated in the transmission of COVID-19 or that the virus responsible for the pandemic is carried by domestic food-producing animals, such as poultry, pigs, sheep or cattle, according to the guidance.

WHO recently published a report on how COVID-19 spread to humans after experts visited Wuhan, China with the introduction of the novel coronavirus through food products considered as one of the possible pathways.

Past studies have shown animals are the source of more than 70 percent of all emerging infectious diseases in humans.

Also consider hygiene, traceability, and enforcement
WHO, OIE, and UNEP want authorities to strengthen regulation for improving standards of hygiene and sanitation in traditional food markets to reduce the risk of transmission of zoonotic diseases. This includes handwashing, pest control, and waste management. Any legislation should also cover the traceability of farmed wild animals to ensure they are distinguished from caught wild animals.

When wild animals are kept in cages and slaughtered in open market areas, these zones become contaminated with bodily fluids and feces, increasing the risk of transmitting pathogens to workers and customers and potentially resulting in spillover of diseases to other animals in the market.

Food inspectors need to be trained to ensure that businesses comply with regulations to protect consumers’ health and are held accountable. In addition, authorities should be adequately resourced, so that regulations on food animal production, processing, and marketing are consistently enforced, said the three agencies.

Another action included the development of food safety information campaigns for market traders, stallholders, consumers, and the general public.

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