Friends of Animals is calling on U.S. and world leaders to shutter their wild animal wet markets where millions of wild animals are killed and sold for consumption and our efforts are paying off.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that most of the zoonotic emerging infectious diseases of recent decades, including the present COVID-19, are linked to the wildlife trade,” Priscilla Feral wrote in a letter sent to WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. A similar letter was sent to United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

“There is some debate whether the infected animal was a bat or a pangolin, but there seems to be no debate that the disease was transmitted by an infected wild animal,” she wrote. “We are confident you are aware that so many other infectious diseases – SARS, MERS, HIV, West Nile, Nipah, Zika, Ebola, and hundreds of others – share similar epidemiology with wild animals being natural reservoirs.

“The wet markets of the world have for too long cruelly consumed millions of wild animals and endangered the health of the entire planet. And for what? So someone could dine on the flesh of an exotic animal? Why should civil society tolerate such extreme risks to satisfy self-indulgent decadence?” Feral said.

This spring, FoA wrote to representatives of several U.N. countries, as well as the U.S. Secretary of State and Congressional representatives. In June, the German Ambassador to the UN announced his country is going to seek a U.N. Resolution calling for the global shut-down of all wildlife meat markets.

“We must close all wildlife meat markets, legal and illegal,’’ said Dr. Christoph Heusgen, the German Ambassador to the U.N. “We must stop all commercial trade for human consumption. We need to act boldly, and we want a UN Resolution on this issue.”

Friends of Animals had written Ambassador Heusgen requesting such action following his remarks at the U.N. Security Council when he described with frustration the “deafening silence” from the U.N. as COVID-19 pandemic raged globally killing hundreds of thousands of people.

Ghebreyesus, of WHO, addressed the issue earlier this spring, calling for a ban on the sale and trade of wildlife for food.

“WHO’s position is that when these markets are allowed to reopen it should only be on the condition that they conform to stringent food safety and hygiene standards,” he said in a briefing reported by the BBC. “Governments must rigorously enforce bans on the sale and trade of wildlife for food.”

However, WHO then clarified that it is currently looking only to regulate them, not shut them down. So FoA is keeping up the pressure on leaders to fully address the issue and has written to WHO again.

FoA has also written to the Congressional lawmakers and the Office of Public Liaison in response to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement calling on China to permanently close its illegal wet markets. In its April 24 letter, FoA urged Pompeo to call for closure of all worldwide wet markets, not just illegal markets, including U.S. markets.

“U.S. authorities continue to seize contraband bushmeat from time to time. So do European authorities and other border agencies around the world. True, there are major wild animal wet markets in China. But there are also very large wild animal wet markets at Chatuchak in Bangkok, at Tomohon in North Sulawesi, at Uluwo in Lagos, and in virtually all large cities of Asia and Africa. Any of these is a potential site for transmission of zoonotic infection from wild animals to humans,” Feral and FoA Wildlife Law Program Legal Director Michael Harris wrote in the letter.

After FoA publicly pressed U.S. officials to take action, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Heroes Act with a provision calling on federal agency officials and the Secretary of State to “provide assistance to foreign countries to end the trade of wildlife that pose a risk to humans because of transmission of pathogens that cause disease.”

Sen. Cory Booker, who FoA contacted about the issue, introduced bipartisan legislation — Preventing Future Pandemics Act of 2020 — that would direct the State Department to work with international partners to shut down commercial wildlife markets and stop the associated wildlife trade, end the import, export and sale of live wildlife for human consumption in the United States, and phase out demand for wildlife as a food source.

FoA has also offered to partner with world leaders to pursue a global educational program to raise awareness that the consumption of wild animal meat carries high risk, not only for the consumer, but for all the world.

In the letter to the United Nations, Feral said Guterres’ three-point agenda described at the G-20 Virtual Summit on the COVID-19 Pandemic, was persuasive and compelling but the recovery plan must include mobilizing UN resources to persuade all UN member states of the compelling need that they shut down wild animal markets, and that they, like China, immediately prohibit all hunting, transport and trade of wild animals intended for human consumption.

“We are aware that some persons will be critical of such a closure, arguing that the markets exist to fulfill an important nutritional need. This is largely untrue,” Feral said. “Particularly in Asia, the markets offer expensive exotic meats that are consumed mostly for vanity reasons such as social status or personal ego. In Africa, however, many people do visit wet markets to buy “bushmeat” for subsistence nutrition. But there are many alternatives to such unhygienic and cruel options. For example, one Friends of Animals project in Senegal is assisting people in very remote villages start community gardens that are producing wholesome alternatives to unsanitary animal protein.”

To read the entire letter to the United Nations click here and for the WHO letter click here. The letter to the U.S. Office of Public Liaison can be found here.

This post was updated on September 8, 2020.