in Global Governance at UMass & Abroad


By Lorelei Goodall

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the United States has pushed for the shut down of hundreds of wet markets across Asia. But is the problem of selling and slaughtering live animals in unsanitary conditions that far from home? In New York City alone, there are over 80 operating wet markets that have over 10 species of animals, including chickens, cows, sheep, goats, ducks, and others. These animals are crammed into cages and pens, barely able to move while they await their death.

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According to CBS News, New York state has stopped inspecting these wet markets during the Covid-19 pandemic in order to stop the spread of this disease. Meaning, that these markets have gone unregulated and now pose an even more serious threat to public health. Activists such as Jill Carnegie of Slaughter Free NYC have caught footage of what actually goes on in these markets. The videos show cramped cages bursting with chickens, some with deceased or diseased individuals. Some of these chickens resort to cannibalism, eating dead chickens residing into the same cage. Similar videos show blood, urine, and feces coating the floor, and automated machines killing goats and sheep.

Beyond these few domestic animals, wet markets across New York have also been found to sell illegally imported monkey, python, and civet meat. The United States is the number one importer of illegal and legal wildlife products across the world. Showing how Americans are a more centralized part of the problem when it comes to illegal importation and selling of products with a public health risk. According to the CDC, 6 of every 10 known infectious diseases can be spread by animals and 3 out of 4 current and emerging diseases in humans are originally from animals.

One family-run wet market has operated in the heart of Queens for over 63 years. The owner claims “we sanitize multiple times a day. It’s a part of our routine before COVID”. He argues that wet markets are an important part of the surrounding community and are necessary for Halal and Kosher clientele. In May of 2020, Linda Rosenthal of the New York Assembly has introduced a bill that will temporarily shut down all wet markets in New York while the public health risk is assessed.

By Lorelei Goodall

On March 3, 2020, the United Nations marked World Wildlife Day with the introduction of the End Wildlife Crime Initiative. Put forward as a way to encourage nations to fill international enforcement gaps, the agreement is intended to “unif[y] global action” and to “stop the decline of ecosystems, reverse the extinction crisis facing wild animals and plants, and eliminate threats to human health.” Under this new initiative, there are several proposed solutions to the increasingly apparent breach in international trade governance. One solution includes the adoption of a protocol on wildlife crime under the UN, which would include new regulations on trade and wildlife such as bans on wildlife consumption and trade in relation to wet markets. Such measures may include bans on high-risk wet markets on the basis of public health like banning entry to non regulated markets. A second proposed solution includes a new agreement with the World Health Organization to instill revised regulations and guidelines to wildlife trade and consumption. The third proposed solution includes amending the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) guidelines to include public health guidelines and enforcement methods to decrease the possibility of the next global pandemic. According to John E. Scanlon, a previous secretary to CITES, amending and including new clauses in the Convention would be the most cost-effective and fastest way to fill this gap in international wildlife trade.

Arief Budi Kusuma /

The aim of CITES is “to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.” As of now, the current Secretary-General of CITES, Ivonne Higuero, has done little to begin the amendment process and to further the outreach of this international agreement. Moreover, she has released little information on what guidelines may be put in place to avoid future zoonotic based pandemics. This leads to the idea that the subsection of the UN devoted to wildlife consumption and protection may not be ready to combat the ever-increasing need to regulate and innovate to protect the public at large from pandemics.

If, in theory, CITES were changed in the near future to include clauses on public health and safety by regulating breeding grounds for zoonotic diseases such as wet markets and ban certain wildlife consumptive practices, the results would be extremely beneficial to wildlife-dependent communities. Well-managed security can create law and stability, thus increasing tourism, sequestering carbon, combating poaching, protecting biodiversity, and creating local jobs. This would create a more stable surrounding economy to the countries most susceptible to illegal wildlife trade and overall improve the quality of life for thousands of individuals. There has been a success with this system in the DRC, more specifically Garamba National Parks. For now, the only thing holding back the possibility of change for the good is the inaction of CITES officials. Change can only happen when those who can make a difference use their power. CITES needs strong leadership at this point in history to enforce new laws and prevent future pandemics as a whole. This process may take months, but the outcome could save the world from the next global pandemic and save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

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