In a bustling meat market on a tourist island in Indonesia on 7 April, a pile of dead bats is laid out for sale on a table next to cuts of fresh pork while a butcher angrily shoos away a customer trying to take pictures of the scene on his iPhone.
Two thousand miles north and two days earlier, cats are crammed into filthy cages in a market in Guangxi province in southwest China where different species are piled haphazardly on top of each other and slaughtered side by side on a concrete floor splattered with dirt, blood and animal parts.
On 26 March, in the southern province of Guangdong neighbouring Hong Kong, a traditional medicine seller offers remedies made with bats and scorpions to treat ailments ranging from shoulder pain and rheumatism to mosquito bites.
Imagine a world where facts changed minds. The United Nations, governments and everyone with influence would now be saying we should abandon meat or at a minimum cut down on consumption. Perhaps my reading is not as wide as it should be, but I have heard nothing of the sort argued. Making the case would be child’s play and would not be confined to emphasising that Covid-19 probably jumped species in Wuhan’s grotesque wet markets. The Sars epidemic of 2002-04 began in Guangdong, probably in bats, and then spread to civet cats, sold in markets and eaten in restaurants. The H7N9 strain of bird flu began in China, once again, and moved to humans from diseased poultry.
The question is: can we somehow transcend the powerfully ingrained meat culture and re-invent our relationship with animals.
And it ain’t pretty. We Animals documents Asian wet markets in photos, and if the sight of lots of butchered animals doesn’t tweak your conscience, then at least consider that you are looking at exactly the sort of close human-animal interaction that will likely give us our next pandemic if wet markets aren’t closed permanently.
Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice. I say it might just be a raging epidemic arising from the virulent combination of modern farming practices, dense populations, and global culture.
Is the H7N9 scare a harbinger of how it will go? Foreign Policy ponders:
At this writing, 108 cases of H7N9 flu, as the new virus has been dubbed, have been confirmed, and one asymptomatic carrier of the virus has been identified. Twenty-two of the cases have proven fatal, and nine people have been cured of the new flu. The remainder are still hospitalized, many in severe condition suffering multiple organ failures. As the flu czar of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Keiji Fukuda, terselyput it to reporters last week, “Anything can happen. We just don’t know.”
On this tenth anniversary of China’s April 2003 admission that the SARS virus had spread across that country — under cloak of official secrecy, spawning a pandemic of a previously unknown, often lethal disease — Beijing finds itself once again in a terrible position via-a-vis the microbial and geopolitical worlds. In both the SARS and current H7N9 influenza cases, China watched the microbe’s historic path unfold during a period of enormous political change. And the politics got in the way of appropriate threat assessment.
There are a lot of worries about the recent outbreak of H7N9 virus in China. Want to know how it stacks up against other deadly viruses when it comes to what species it can infect, and how deadly it is?
Or course you do, and, happily, there is an infographic for that. And it should be enough to make you re-think the human relationship with pigs and chickens (click image for full size):