A better understanding of 'wet markets' is key to safeguarding human health, biodiversity

Written by
B. Rose Huber
B. Rose Huber, Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory
June 10, 2021

Great uncertainty surrounds the origins of SARS-CoV-2. Early on, some suggested a link between COVID-19 and a seafood market in Wuhan, China. Other theories are now circulating, though the origins of the virus are still unknown. In response, governments have pushed for the closing of so-called “wet markets” around the world, but this is not an effective policy solution, Princeton University researchers report.

A widespread shuttering of all wet markets could have the unintended consequences of disrupting critical food supply chains, stimulating an unregulated black market for animal products, and stoking xenophobia and anti-Asian sentiment. Furthermore, the majority of these informal markets — which specialize in fresh meat, seafood, and other perishable items in open-air settings — pose little risk to human health or biodiversity.

Instead, policymakers should target the most high-risk aspects of markets to prevent disruptions to local food supply chains while reducing human health and biodiversity dangers, the researchers argue in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health. Markets selling live animals, especially live wild animals, pose the most outsized risks to human health and biodiversity, the researchers conclude.

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