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Hypocrisy: British govt sought out ‘BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES’ in China’s wet markets as public health body warned Brits to stay away

Danielle Ryan
Danielle Ryan

is an Irish freelance writer based in Dublin. Her work has appeared in Salon, The Nation, Rethinking Russia, teleSUR, RBTH, The Calvert Journal and others. Follow her on Twitter @DanielleRyanJ

is an Irish freelance writer based in Dublin. Her work has appeared in Salon, The Nation, Rethinking Russia, teleSUR, RBTH, The Calvert Journal and others. Follow her on Twitter @DanielleRyanJ

Hypocrisy: British govt sought out ‘BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES’ in China’s wet markets as public health body warned Brits to stay away
The Covid-19 crisis has triggered Western calls to ban Chinese wet markets, one of which is thought to be the source of the virus – but where was the anger when the UK was promoting “business opportunities” in these very markets?

Former Beatle and animal rights activist Paul McCartney is one of the latest high-profile British figures to call for the closure of the “medieval” wet markets, where live and dead animals are sold and many of which have been criticized for lax health and safety standards – not to mention the animal cruelty.

Indeed, some scientists believe the novel coronavirus may have originated in bats at a live animal and seafood market in Wuhan, with pangolins (or possibly stray dogs) acting as a potential intermediary host before the virus spread to humans – though the evidence here is not conclusive. The 2002 outbreak of the SARS virus is also believed to have originated at a Chinese wet market.

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Yet, while there is much righteous outrage today as the world is gripped by a new pandemic, the health problems posed by wet markets were evidently not a high priority when there was money to be made from them.

It turns out, according to documents seen by investigative website Declassified UK, that the British government under former Conservative PMs Theresa May and David Cameron, saw these markets not as hazardous vectors for disease, but as “business opportunities” for British companies to export live animals and shellfish to China. Meanwhile, Public Health England was repeatedly warning Britons to stay away from China’s wet markets amid bird-flu fears.

Damian Green, former deputy PM under May slammed China last month for "unhygienic practices" at the markets which he said "have been known-about for years." Rather ironically, Green's colleagues also "spent years encouraging British businesses" to take advantage of the markets, Declassified UK wrote.

Theresa May herself showed up in Wuhan as part of a three-day post-Brexit trade drive to China in 2018. "Wuhan's inclusion on May's itinerary seems surprising," the South China Morning Post wrote at the time. She was joined there by her Trade Secretary Liam Fox, who is a medical doctor – though there is no evidence that the subject of wet markets was on the agenda or that May raised any concerns in this regard, Declassified UK said.

One of the reasons Britain wanted to take advantage of the markets was because of "food safety scandals" which were driving higher demand for imported products. Yet, ironically, when China lifted a ban on British beef imports it was actually lowering its food safety standards, since British cattle are at higher risk of mad cow disease than Chinese cattle, the report said. In April 2019, Britain became one of only two countries allowed to export live langoustine lobsters to China. Those exports have plummeted since the markets were temporarily closed by the Chinese government in January.

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There has been much debate about the reopening of these wet markets in recent weeks. There has also been some confusion about the World Health Organization (WHO) position on the issue. While some reports have suggested the WHO backs their reopening, spokesman Tarik Jasarevic has said that those reports are "not correct." Dr David Nabarro, the WHO’s special envoy on Covid-19, told BBC's Radio 4 that the organization has advised China to shut the "dangerous" markets, but said the WHO doesn't have the capacity to "police the world" in these matters. Top US infectious disease doctor Anthony Fauci has also weighed in, saying the markets should be “shut down right away.”

Beijing has implemented a ban on the consumption and trading of wild animals since the Covid-19 outbreak, though there are some worrying loopholes for the use of exotic animals in traditional medicine, including the use of “bear bile” to treat Covid-19 patients – the extraction of which is an extremely painful process for the animals.

China has also re-categorized dogs as human companion animals instead of livestock. Days before that announcement, the city of Shenzhen banned the eating of cats and dogs, which are often sold at wet markets. These are encouraging signs, though it’s worth remembering some restrictions introduced after the SARS outbreak were later lifted.

British media has been keen to highlight the problems posed by China’s wet markets in recent weeks. “Will they ever learn?” one haughty Daily Mail headline asked. Also in the Mail, Conservative writer Tom Tugendhat published a column demanding that Britain no longer be “in hock to China” which puts the “world’s health at risk” – but nowhere did he mention successive Tory governments’ promotion of business with China’s wet markets. 

Declassified UK’s reporting on the British government’s eagerness to use wet markets as business opportunities has been largely ignored in favor of arrogant pontificating – but if they really want to see an end to China’s wet markets, perhaps British journalists should begin encouraging their own government to stop cashing in on them.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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