When the news of the novel corona virus first became known to us at the end of December 2019, the new epidemic was blamed on one of Wuhan’s so-called ‘wet markets’. Most Americans had never even heard of ‘wet markets’ before. Now it’s a household word.  

We learned about them then when the Chinese government said the virus had come from a wet market in Wuhan, China. The wet markets in China are known for selling exotic and sometimes rare animals, like snakes, civet cats, foxes and to wolf cubs, as well as all forms of birds, reptiles, amphibians, and even dogs and cats – for food. And this virus, according to the Chinese government, came from bats. And bat soup. Later they said it had come from the scaly ant-eater or pangolin. And they also said that they had the virus under control. 

In fact, they were lying on all counts, because the virus didn’t come from the wet market, and it didn’t come from the scaly ant-eater, and it wasn’t close to being under control. 

The closest they came to the truth was when they said it came from bats. But it wasn’t from bat soup, or from bats in the wet market. In fact, by some accounts, there were no bats being sold in the wet market. 

It came from a virus carried by a certain kind of bat found in South China, that was collected and cultured in a laboratory. Although it was originally thought to be conspiracy theory and those who suggested it were mocked, as I was when I first reported it in mid-January, it is now generally accepted that the original COVID-19 virus came from a virology laboratory in Wuhan. 

But that is a major topic for another article. Because this is not about the laboratory or about the bats. 

It is about the wet markets in China . . . and in the United States. 

Did you know that there are wet markets in America? 

Wet markets are common throughout China, and we’ve heard a great deal about the one in Wuhan. In any Chinese city, there are hundreds of such markets, and the Chinese people come to the markets to get their freshly slaughtered meat. Nothing new there. These live animal markets are also common in Africa and other parts of Asia, and in the Middle East, mostly in underdeveloped areas. 

But did you know that there are also wet markets in New York City? And Chicago? And San Francisco?

Tens of thousands of shoppers come to these markets and pick out live animals which they buy for food. And while they wait, the animals are slaughtered, and then carried home as freshly killed dinner.

It is shocking to learn that there are more than 80 wet markets in the New York City area alone, from the Bronx to Queens. Most of the patrons are immigrants from countries where wet markets are common. 

So what’s so bad about the wet markets? Well, a multiple of things, and they are very bad. 

These markets – in New York and California and Illinois – are filthy and unregulated. and, just like in China, they sell live animals, chickens and other fowl, crammed into small crates in the cruelest way, jammed together without access to food or water. Baby goats and lambs are tethered to poles or vendor stands, right next to butchered meat, whole carcasses, hanging on hooks along the wall. And the discarded entrails of the butchered animals, as well as blood and animal feces, are just left on the ground in piles and puddles. And the small children of the shoppers, accompany their parents, and walk and play in that mess.

This haphazard and unsanitary collection of live and dead animals in close quarters and the filth on the ground is what a typical wet market looks like. These markets are an epidemic just waiting to happen.  

How is it even possible that this exists in the United States? And particularly now, since the coronavirus broke out, why have these breeding grounds of filth and disease not been shut down?

Well, one reason is that these wet markets do not fall under the responsibility of the Department of Health, although the vendors are certainly selling fresh food. 

But for some reason, these markets are the responsibility of the USDA and the NY State Department of Agriculture. The animals have not been inspected, and the methods of slaughter are primitive at best. And the authorities don’t seem to care. Is this just another example of government agencies passing the buck? Are they afraid that if they close these markets down they will be called ‘racist’?

Neither of these agencies seem the least bit concerned that these markets may be culturing their own little epidemics in in the heart of our major cities, or that even in the face of a global pandemic, these markets are still going strong, although they break every rule mandated by the FDA regarding food safety.

New York and California legislatures claim to be working on shutting these markets down, and that’s a good thing, but they are moving far too slowly, and so the chances of anything actually being done any time soon is doubtful. 

Maybe a walk through one of these markets would be a place for our legislators to begin. They could see the amphibians, and reptiles, and birds crammed into crates that are stacked high, one on top of another, right next to the hanging carcasses of freshly killed animals. And let them, the legislators, walk through the pools of blood and the piles of offal. It might just move them to do something.

New York City has about 80 such markets, selling live goats, sheep, rabbits, chickens, turkeys, guinea fowl, partridges, pigeons, ducks, and quail. The customers are tens of thousands of mostly immigrants from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. They are accustomed to these types of markets, which exist in most underdeveloped countries, where they call them souks and bazaars, and so they are happy to patronize them here as well, and they don’t demand a change. 

But this is America. It’s not a third world country where such terrible cruelty to animals and incredibly toxic conditions exist as a part of a culture. In these markets, right here in America, in what is supposedly a market for food, the laws regarding food safety and animal cruelty are completely ignored. 

Where are all the bleeding hearts and tree huggers now? Where is PETA? Where is anyone with a conscience? And where is the Department of Agriculture, state or federal? These markets are breeding grounds for disease, and now, in the middle of the biggest pandemic in our lifetime, they are allowed to exist without interference. 

In fact, they continue to exist despite our supposed concern for animal welfare and the healthcare of our population, and they ignore every law and regulation regarding food safety. 

It is disgusting! And they need to be shut down immediately!