Recently, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine filed a legal Petition for Rulemaking with the US Surgeon General, Jerome Adams, MD, MPH, demanding the immediate closure of all wet markets nationwide. In addition to the non-profit’s 12,000 doctor members, the petition was signed by numerous physicians, including Eric J. Brandt, MD, of Yale University School of Medicine, and Michelle L. O’Donoghue, MD, MPH, of Harvard Medical School.
“Live animal markets are a welcome mat to coronaviruses. The failure to close a single live animal market in China led to a pandemic that has closed countless businesses worldwide and led to an enormous death toll and economic havoc,” state the doctors in their Petition for Rulemaking. It further reads: “There must not be another pandemic. To ‘prevent the introduction, transmission, and spread of communicable diseases’ in the United States, the Surgeon General must promulgate regulations that prohibit the sale, transfer, donation, other commercial or public offering, or transportation, in interstate or intrastate commerce, of live birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians to retail facilities that hold live animals intended for human consumption.”
To underscore the need for government action, the Petition highlights the unsanitary conditions at the J&B Poultry Market in Philadelphia. According to Philadelphia Magazine, the federal government filed a lawsuit against J&B Poultry Market, alleging a long series of problems and violations. In 2015, inspectors from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health found unclean “plucking equipment,” cages “encrusted with fecal matter,” and “slaughtering equipment encrusted with bird feathers and bird waste.” J&B Poultry Market is now operating under the name Shun Li Live Poultry Market / S & L Poultry Market Inc.
While the Chinese authorities have taken modest steps to prevent the next pandemic, the US should act more decisively. According to Business Insider, the market where it is believed the current outbreak may have started, the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, has been closed, and Wuhan authorities have banned the trade of live animals at all of the city’s wet markets. China has also announced a national ban on the buying, selling, and transportation of wild animals in markets, restaurants, and online marketplaces across the country. Farms that breed and transport wildlife to wet markets were also quarantined and closed.
Live animal markets are a breeding ground for organisms that may not cause disease in animal hosts but can be deadly to humans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “more than 6 out of every ten known infectious diseases in people can be spread from animals, and 3 out of every four new or emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals.” Outbreaks cause death and, in the case of COVID-19, significant economic harm.
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization of 12,000 physicians who promote preventive medicine, conduct clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.