The World Health Organization called on Tuesday for a halt to the sale of live wild mammals in food markets to prevent the emergence of new diseases such as COVID-19.
The WHO said because traditional markets play a central role in providing food and livelihoods for large populations, banning the sale of live wild mammals could protect the health of market workers and customers alike.
“COVID-19 has brought new attention to this threat, given the magnitude of its consequences,” WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told reporters.
The call came in fresh guidance drawn up by the WHO in conjunction with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
“WHO, OIE and UNEP call on all national competent authorities to suspend the trade in live caught wild animals of mammalian species for food or breeding and close sections of food markets selling live caught wild animals of mammalian species as an emergency measure unless demonstrable effective regulations and adequate risk assessment are in place,” the agencies said.
“Animals, particularly wild animals, are the source of more than 70% of all emerging infectious diseases in humans, many of which are caused by novel viruses. Wild mammals, in particular, pose a risk for the emergence of new diseases,” the guidance said.
The agencies recalled that some of the earliest known cases of COVID-19 had links to a wholesale traditional food market in the Chinese city of Wuhan, with many of the initial patients stall owners, market employees or regular visitors to the market.
They added that samples from the Wuhan market suggested that it might be the source of the pandemic’s outbreak and/or that it played a role in the initial amplification of the outbreak.