China is offering a government buy-out to wildlife farmers in two provinces to help transition those whose livelihoods depend on breeding wild species for consumption away from the practice.
It is part of the country’s clampdown on the wildlife trade following the outbreak of the coronavirus which originated in Wuhan, China late last year. The origins of the pandemic are still being investigated but one of the suspected sources is the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in the city which included a live animal section reportedly selling more than 30 species of animals including live wolf pups, golden cicadas, scorpions and civets. China closed the market in January.
On the whole, researchers agree that the most plausible explanation is that the virus made the jump from an animal to human in a “zoonotic spillover” event.
The buy-out plans were published at the end of last week and would give wildlife farmers in Hunan and Jiangxi provinces, two neighbouring regions in the southeast of the country, the opportunity to be compensated for switching to grow fruit, vegetables, tea plants, or herbs for traditional Chinese medicine. There is also an option to breed other animals such as pigs and chickens.
Farmers in Hunan are being offered compensation of 630 yuan ($88) per porcupine; 600 yuan ($84) per civet cat; 75 yuan ($11) per kilogram of bamboo rat and 120 yuan ($17) per kg of cobra, king rattle or rat snakes. Each wild goose or Chinese muntjac deer will be worth 2,457 yuan ($345) each.
In February, China issued an unprecedented nationwide ban on all terrestrial wild animal commerce and consumption, including exotic species raised on farms.
The initial buy-out covers 14 species of farmed wildlife and only farms operating legally with breeding permits before the February ban are eligible for the programme.
The wildlife trade in China is valued at $73bn and employs more than 14 million people, according to a 2017 industry report by the Chinese Academy of Engineering, the LA Times reported.
Dr Peter Li, China policy specialist for Humane Society International (HSI), said: “By subsidising wildlife breeders to transition to alternative livelihoods, these provinces are demonstrating global leadership on this issue, which other provinces and countries must now follow.
“Chinese farmers not only have an opportunity to leave a trade that poses a direct threat to human health – something that can no longer be tolerated in light of Covid-19 – but also to transition to more humane and sustainable livelihoods such as growing plant foods popular in Chinese cuisine.
“This is a model for change that Humane Society International has been putting into practice with dog meat farmers in South Korea for some years, with dog farmers transitioning over to farming chillies, mushrooms, and water parsley. In China you can easily imagine the vast sheds that once factory farmed bamboo rats and other unfortunate wildlife, being adapted to grow mushrooms and herbs instead.”
Dr Li said that the move away from the wildlife trade will increase produce for people to adopt a more plant-based diet, in line with the China’s national dietary guidelines which recommends a 50% reduction in meat.
However the buy-out plan does not tackle the huge numbers of wild animals bred for fur, traditional Chinese medicine and the pet trade, according to HSI, the most valuable portion of the wildlife trade, worth an estimated $55bn.
There is also concern of what will happen to the wild species if farmers opt for the buy-outs. The proposal has three options - release of animals into the wild in suitable and non-residential habitats; utilisation by other industries such as zoos, laboratory research, and traditional medicine; or mass culling.
HSI’s Dr Li added: “The wild animal breeding farms and factories facing closure and transition must not sacrifice animal welfare in an effort to implement the new changes.”
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies