BERKELEY, California — A wet market is a market that sells fresh, perishable foods, sometimes including live animals, which may be slaughtered on site. According to China’s investigation in early 2020, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) may have originated because of animal slaughter in a wet market in Wuhan City, China. More recent evidence indicates that this wet market may have been a ‘superspreader event’ and that patient zero contracted the disease elsewhere. Although both of these are just theories, the fear of wet markets is having very serious consequences for those living in impoverished, remote areas in lower-income countries.
Criticism of Wet Markets
Wet markets are a point of criticism around the world. These critiques occur especially in Western countries where live animal markets are uncommon and sometimes seen as exotic or unclean. The exoticization of these markets in Western countries is influenced by an anti-Asian sentiment, with a focus on the rare presence of ‘exotic’ animals, rather than the important socio-economic function of these markets. Now, some are holding wet markets responsible for the most devastating global event in recent history. This has led many wet markets to shut down under international pressure.
Role of These Markets
While Wuhan City is one of the largest cities in China with many food options, there are many remote areas in lower-income countries where wet markets are the only reliable source of affordable and fresh food. Local growers bring a wide variety of nutritious fruits, vegetables and grains, and butchers provide cheap sources of protein. Because farmers grow food locally in small quantities, the food fresher, more accessible and cheaper. This is absolutely vital for those living in impoverished, rural areas who would otherwise have no access to fresh, nutritious foods.
Markets also help support the local economy. Farmers have access to a consistent source of income because their services are essential to their communities. For farmers, markets are a way to ensure the future of their families and communities. The income they receive is necessary to support their family’s healthcare, education, clothing, nutrition and everyday needs.
Hygiene and Efforts to Address It
The main concern for wet markets is the consistency of hygiene measures. Regulations vary from country to country and can be difficult to enforce in rural or remote areas. Good hygiene practices are essential to ensuring the health and safety of customers.
The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is a United Nations-funded organization that focuses on the well-being of rural residents around the world. It is working to improve hygiene in wet markets so they can eliminate food safety risks and continue to serve their communities. IFAD does this by educating local farmers and sellers on proper hygiene techniques. It also puts pressure on local governments to create stricter food safety policies for the health of the communities they serve.
The novel coronavirus is the most devastating global event in this century as far as lives lost. It is no wonder that people around the world want to protect themselves from having something like this happen ever again. However, closing markets is not the answer. These markets are absolutely vital to the lives and economies of those living in impoverished, rural areas in lower-income nations. Without these markets, there would be no access to fresh, nutritious foods or consistent income for farmers. The solution is to focus on ensuring consistent hygiene for the safety of customers through policy and education.
— Monica McCown