Full Report (PDF, 1.43MB)
Jurisdictions Surveyed: Angola | Argentina | Botswana | Bulgaria | Cambodia | China | Democratic Republic of the Congo | Côte d’Ivoire | Egypt | Gabon | Georgia | Ghana | Greenland | Guyana | India | Indonesia | Kazakhstan | Liberia | Nepal | Pakistan | Russia | Thailand | Turkey | Vietnam
Appendix: Mexico | Saudi Arabia | United Arab Emirates | United Kingdom
This report, prepared by staff at the Law Library of Congress, examines the regulation of “wet markets” at which wild animals, or the meat of such animals, can be purchased for human consumption. It covers 28 jurisdictions around the world, with a particular focus on sanitary requirements for such markets and the legality or otherwise of trading in wild animals or wild meat (also referred to as “bushmeat”). The term “wet market” can be taken to generally refer to “a partially open commercial complex with vending stalls organized in rows; they often have slippery floors and narrow aisles along which independent vendors primarily sell “wet” items such as meat, poultry, seafood, vegetables, and fruits.” Such markets may or may not sell live animals and do not necessarily include wildlife or the meat or other products derived from wild animals.
Wet markets and other types of local or traditional food markets exist in countries around the world and are an important source of food as well as supporting the livelihoods of many people. However, they have also been identified as potential or likely sources of outbreaks of zoonoses (diseases or infections that are transmissible from animals to humans), including most recently in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. A recently published study on the effect of a wet market on COVID-19 transmission dynamics in China explained that
[e]vidence suggests that the novel coronavirus likely jumped from a primary reservoir (e.g. horseshoe bats) to an intermediary reservoir, possibly generating an outbreak among wild animals in at least one wet market in Wuhan, China (By Jon CohenJan, 2020, Li et al., 2020). The virus first infected multiple individuals working at, or visiting, the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market at an early stage, initiating multiple chains of transmission that ensured sustained transmission in the human population (Yang et al., 2020). While details of the origin of the outbreak remain uncertain, significant evidence strongly links the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan with the early spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) among humans (Li et al., 2020).
In April 2020, the director general of the World Health Organization (WHO) stated in a media briefing on COVID-19 that the WHO is working with United Nations bodies to develop new guidance on the safe operation of wet markets. He stated that the “WHO’s position is that when these markets are allowed to reopen it should only be on the condition that they conform to stringent food safety and hygiene standards.” The director general also emphasized that governments must “vigorously enforce bans on the sale and trade of wildlife for food.”
The WHO previously issued guidance on “healthy food markets” in 2006 as part of a larger initiative on this issue.
II. Wild Animal Wet Markets
In this report, we use the term “wild animal wet market” to refer to physical marketplaces at which wild animals, their meat, or other derivative products can be purchased for human consumption. In some cases, it was difficult to determine with certainty the existence of such markets in a country, although there were reports of wild animals or wild meat being traded to varying extents. Some countries, such as Botswana and Angola, where bushmeat is reportedly an important source of nutrition but where information on how such meat is actually commercially traded is limited, have been included in this report. In addition, examples of countries, such as Argentina and Georgia, where game meat may be sold in establishments or markets other than what might be termed traditional “wet markets” have been included. The following countries jurisdictions have also been included in an addendum to this report: Mexico, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. These jurisdictions do not appear to have wet markets at which wild animals are sold for human consumption, but have laws relevant to animal protection and/or the safety of game meat.
III. Legality of Trading in Wild Animals and Their Parts
The jurisdictions covered in this report restrict the hunting and trading of wild animals through wildlife protection and hunting laws. Generally, species that are not listed as protected may be hunted, subject to licensing or permit requirements. In a number of the jurisdictions, the trade of game meat or bushmeat for consumption is legal with respect to unprotected animals, with such commercial activity also subject to a permit system. This includes, for example, Botswana, Cambodia, China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ghana, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Thailand, Turkey, and Vietnam. In Greenland, meat from wild land animals may be sold by hunters directly to consumers, including in local markets. The sale of polar bear meat may only occur in such markets after the kill has been officially registered with the municipality and biological tests have been conducted.
Several jurisdictions also have laws authorizing and regulating the breeding and raising of wild animals for commercial purposes, including the DRC, Nepal, Thailand, Turkey, and Vietnam. In Turkey, the only wild-caught animal that can traded commercially is wild boar.
In some jurisdictions, it appears that the types of wild animals or their derivative products sold for consumption are largely protected species, and therefore their trade is illegal. This includes Egypt, India, Liberia, and Pakistan.
Several countries have banned the trade and/or consumption of wild meat in response to outbreaks of zoonotic diseases, particularly Ebola and COVID-19, including China (with respect to wild land animals); Côte d’Ivoire (in response to both Ebola and COVID-19); the DRC (reports indicate a possible temporary ban in response to Ebola); Gabon (with respect to pangolins and bats); Liberia (although the ban in response to Ebola was subsequently lifted); and Vietnam. In Indonesia, the wild meat trade through wet markets has remained legal in particular provinces, although some local authorities have sought to limit the supply of such meat and to discourage its consumption.
IV. Market Sanitation and Food Safety Requirements
Generally, there are two main areas of law under which governments seek to ensure that animals and their derivative products are fit for human consumption and to protect against the risk of infections or diseases: food safety requirements that apply to the handling of animals and meat at different points in the supply chain, and sanitation requirements imposed on food businesses through public health or related laws. Public or environmental health and disease prevention laws may also be relevant. In some countries, including Angola and Russia, there are separate meat safety and/or butchery licensing regulations that apply to the production and sale of all types of meat.
Some jurisdictions covered in this report, particularly China, Indonesia, and Thailand, have specific regulations that apply to wet markets. In these, such markets and market managers are largely subject to regulations promulgated by local governments. However, in China and Indonesia, central government regulations related to market sanitation and food safety also apply, with these laws providing for inspections by relevant authorities. In Thailand, a regulation applicable to markets in Pattaya and Bangkok is used by other localities as a guideline for their own hygiene regulations.
In China, wet markets were temporarily closed in response to the outbreak of COVID-19. All street markets in Egypt, including a known wild animal market, were shut down to combat the spread of the disease. In Indonesia, it appears that local governments allowed wet markets to remain open, but with restrictions on opening hours. In Pakistan, markets appear to be governed by provincial laws, including provincial food sanitation and safety laws. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, federal and provincial governments issued guidance for markets, including health and preventative measures. The central government food safety authority in India also issued new guidance and indicated that it would soon start giving hygiene ratings to meat and fish markets.
Enforcement challenges with respect to wildlife protection or hunting laws and food safety or sanitation laws were identified in a number of jurisdictions. In some countries, there may be a lack of capacity in terms of enforcing licensing or permit systems related to hunting and trading in wild meat. There may also be difficulties, and possibly reluctance on the part of authorities to enforce certain restrictions and requirements, due to the importance placed on local hunting and consumption traditions, such as in Botswana, Côte d’Ivoire, and Indonesia.
In China, where several different authorities are involved in enforcing laws related to wild animal trading, there have been enforcement challenges with respect to licensing, inspections, and identifying illegal vendors. In 2020, the authorities vowed to increase inspections of wildlife breeding sites and revoke all licenses for the commercial use of wild animals for food. However, the previous experience after the end of the 2003 SARS epidemic shows that there can be problems with ongoing enforcement. Amendments to strengthen the relevant wildlife law will be considered in 2020.
Prepared by Kelly Buchanan
Foreign Law Specialist
 Sigal Samuel, The Coronavirus Likely Came from China’s Wet Markets. They’re Reopening Anyway, Vox (Apr. 15, 2020),https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2020/4/15/21219222/coronavirus-china-ban-wet-markets-reopening.
Last Updated: 12/31/2020