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Civet cats on sale at a market in Guangzhou in 2004. The practice of eating wild animals is centuries old in China. Photo: Dustin Shum

China seeks to fast-track ban on trade in wild animals amid coronavirus outbreak

  • The standing committee of the National People’s Congress is set to approve a ban on the sale and consumption of wild animals later this month
  • Existing law is riddled with loopholes, but measure will bypass need to go through time-consuming legislative process
The Chinese government is expected to fast-track a ban on the trade and consumption of wild animals after the practice was linked to the Covid-19 outbreak.

On Monday the official news agency Xinhua reported that the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress would review the ban at a meeting on February 24.

The committee will also discuss the decision to postpone the annual legislative session that had been due to take place in early March.
Trading and consumption of wild animals has been practised in China for centuries but has been blamed for helping to spread the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, the disease which has so far infected more than 70,000 people, killed more than 1,800 and caused serious disruption to the country’s economy.

China already has legislation to regulate the wild animal industry and trade – the current law was first adopted in 1988 and has been revised three times – but legal experts and industry practitioners said the laws were still riddled with loopholes.

For example, there is no total ban on the consumption of wild animals and captive breeding is allowed for commercial purposes.

Wang Canfa, a professor in environmental laws at China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing, said it would be far more efficient and faster for the NPC Standing Committee to pass a motion banning the consumption of wild animals than to go through the lengthy legislative procedure to amend the existing laws.


“Standing Committee members will have a meeting to review and discuss the draft motion and a decision [to ban the consumption] will be promulgated after the meeting and the ban will have full legal power,” Wang said.

Zhou Ke, a professor on environmental and resources law at Renmin University, said amending existing laws would face resistance from vested interest groups such as animal traders, farm owners and even local officials.

“People still have different opinions on whether China should impose a total ban on the commercial use of wild animals, and it’s hard for the lawmakers to reach a consensus in a relatively short period of time,” Zhou said.

“By comparison, it would be much easier for the Standing Committee members to agree,” he added.


Environmentalists say China is the largest market for illegal wildlife products and many animals are in demand for food and use in traditional Chinese medicine.

In 2016, there were more than 14 million people working in the breeding industry, according to a government-backed report published by the Chinese Academy of Engineering in 2017.


The report estimated that the industry was worth a total of 520 billion yuan (US$74 billion).

Li Zhenji, professor of environment and ecology at Xiamen University in Fujian province, said he hoped the ban would encourage more people to stop eating wild animals.

“I suggest completely outlawing the commercial use of wildlife, otherwise there will be loopholes in the law that some people will exploit,” Li said.


However, Zhou Haixiang, a member of the Chinese National Committee for Man and Biosphere, an environmental protection group, warned that the habit was deeply ingrained and it would take more than the current outbreak to make people realise the danger.

In addition, Zhou said strong opposition from the interest groups would likely weaken the effectiveness of the government’s measures and he did not expect there would be a total ban on the commercial use of wild animals.

But he said: “We can’t ask for the whole country to be sacrificed for few people’s interests.”

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