Wet markets are varied and complex across Asia and the world. Wet markets sell fresh produce; ‘wet’ refers to the fresh fruit, vegetables and meat sold on the premises. In many ways, they are run-of-the-mill farmers markets. The issue for a lot of people is that live animals are present, and sometimes butchered at some of these markets. Only a minority of wet markets sell exotic wildlife, and many of these exist outside of China. In fact, a lot of the images we have seen go viral on social media are of bats in Tomohon, on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, not from Wuhan.
Sanitary standards vary widely across wet markets. Many feature excellent health risk management, while others have wild and domestic animals crowded together in unsanitary conditions. Wet markets exist around the world including in countries such as Sweden, where they are well-governed and managed. We even have wet markets in Australia—for example, the Melbourne and Sydney Fish Markets.
Wet markets are an important source of fresh food and livelihood for millions of people in East Asia, West Africa and globally. They connect low income farmers directly with consumers, and are often considered a safer and more reliable source of food than larger supermarkets in countries with weak regulations. Many of these wet markets are also located away from large cities or towns, like in Cameroon’s Korup rainforest where villages are hours away from a supermarket or shopping complex.
So, calling for a shutdown of all wet markets will likely not only affect millions of lives and livelihoods, but it is also likely to be unworkable and ineffective.