After a two-month fight against the coronavirus, ‘it’s time to amend the laws’, says China’s legislature, as it decides to impose a total ban on eating wildlife.
On 24 Feb. 2020, China’s legislature, the National People’s Congress (NPC), has decided to impose a total ban on eating wildlife, and is now amending wildlife-related laws to curb public security risks caused by illegal killing and eating of wildlife.
It is reported that the viruses ( SARS-CoV-2) that cause COVID-19 probably have their origins in bats and pangolins, while the South China Seafood Market (华南海鲜市场) in Wuhan, where the disease first broke out, is likely to be a market for such wildlife. Therefore, illegal human consumption of wildlife is believed to be an important cause of this worldwide epidemic.
In fact, the SARS crisis in 2003 was probably caused by eating masked palm civets, too.
On 10 Feb. 2020, Wang Ruihe (王瑞贺), Director of the Economic Law Office of the Commission of Legislative Affairs of the NPC Standing Committee, said that the NPC has been launching the amendment of relevant laws, e.g., the Wildlife Protection Law, to curb the public health and safety risks caused by wildlife trade and human consumption.
In order to cut out the risk as soon as possible, the NPC Standing Committee has issued a Decision before the amendment on 20 Feb. 2020, imposing a total ban on eating wildlife and illegal wildlife trade.
So, is it illegal to eat bats, pangolins, and civets in China before the Decision made on 20 Feb.?
According to China’s existing Wildlife Protection Law, eating pangolins is definitely illegal; eating civets may be illegal; eating bats is definitely not illegal.
The Wildlife Protection Law only protects wildlife falling under the three lists, i.e., the List of Wildlife under Special State Protection (国家重点保护目录, “State List” ), the List of Wildlife under Special Local Protection (地方重点保护名录, “Local List”), and the List of Terrestrial Wildlife with Important Ecological, Scientific and Social Values (有重要生态、科学、社会价值的陆生野生动物名录, “Valuable Wildlife List”).
Pangolin is listed in the State List; civet is listed in the Valuable Wildlife List; and bat is not covered by any list.
Under normal circumstances, it is prohibited to hunt, kill, sell, purchase or use the wildlife and its products covered by the State List, or to produce and market the food made from the wildlife and its products. Therefore, it is illegal to hunt, kill, trade or eat pangolins, as they are on the list. However, because of the to-be-improved law enforcement of the local government, here comes the pangolin, though quietly, in the market.
Pangolin's Picture by David Brossard (https://www.flickr.com/photos/string_bass_dave/) from flickr
Local Lists are prepared by various provinces at their discretion. In addition, each province will also formulate its own local wildlife protection rules, and some provinces, such as Guangdong, will even take equivalent protection measures for wildlife in its Local List and the State List.
The Valuable Wildlife List is prepared by the National Forestry and Grassland Administration. The wildlife covered by the said list can be artificially bred and cultured, as well as be sold for human consumption after being approved and quarantined by the local government. However, such approval and quarantine are generally a mere formality for the most of time, which causes animals that don't meet the food safety standards to be placed on the dining table, and civets are one of the most common kinds.
Civet's Picture by sipa(https://pixabay.com/zh/users/sipa-62896) onPixabay.
The law does not prohibit the hunting, killing, trading or eating of the wildlife (bats, for example), which not covered by the above three lists. However, eating bats is likely to pose a serious threat to public security according the current epidemic. Therefore, the public urge that bats and other wildlife with similar virus risks be banned from human consumption.
Bat's Picture by Salmar(https://pixabay.com/zh/users/salmar-1781233) onPixabay.
How will China amend its laws?
Most of the public and experts probably wish to ban the human consumption of wildlife completely, be such wildlife covered by the three lists or not. This can greatly reduce the market demand for hunting and trading wildlife.
However, some argue that not all types of wildlife should be banned, because hunting may be a traditional culture of specific ethnic groups. They suggest that the government establish a list of wildlife for or against human consumption.
On 14 Feb. 2020, Tianjin, a municipality near Beijing, issued a new regulation banning the human consumption of wildlife covered by the three lists, as well as all other wildlife that are not artificially fed. This is the first regulation in China to extend the prohibition on human consumption of wildlife to all kinds of wildlife.
The aforementioned Decision made by the NPC on 24 Feb. 2020 bans the eating of all kinds of terrestrial wild animals (excluding wild fish). This means from now on, it is only legal to eat common livestock and fowls, such as pig, cow, sheep, chicken, duck, goose, etc., and a few wild animals that have been artificially fed for a long time and the cultivation technique of which is developed, such as rabbit and pigeon.
This Decision is an urgent measure to address the current situation. And the NPC Standing Committee will amend the laws related to wildlife protection in the coming future, in order to incorporate the content of the Decision into the laws in a more systematic and comprehensive manner.
No matter how China will amend its laws in the future, at least the traditional Chinese customs of eating wildlife have been widely discussed and criticized by the public recently. The change of traditional customs may have the same or even better effect as the modification of laws.
For more about wildlife protection in China, you may refer to the following laws:
The Wildlife Protection Law of the People’s Republic of China (中华人民共和国野生动物保护法)；
The Implementing Regulations for the Terrestrial Wildlife Protection of the People’s Republic of China (中华人民共和国陆生野生动物保护实施条例)
The Implementing Regulations for the Aquatic Wildlife Protection of the People’s Republic of China (中华人民共和国水生野生动物保护实施条例)
Contributors: Guodong Du 杜国栋