The Sanitation and Health Impacts of Asian Wet Markets and its Culture - Paper Example

Published: 2024-01-26
The Sanitation and Health Impacts of Asian Wet Markets and its Culture - Paper Example
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Culture Health and Social Care Animals
Pages: 6
Wordcount: 1479 words
13 min read

According to Kogan and Bolon et al. (2019) traditional wet food markets are vital in the supply of food in their respective areas of practice such as in China. These food markets have a traditional background and significant cultural importance. These wet food markets have, however, been linked with the occurrence of health issues. For instance, the 2003 global severe acute respiratory syndrome that caused many deaths was identified to have originated from the Chinese wet food market. Besides, outbreaks of other diseases such as avian flu, salmonella, giardia, and campylobacter leading to food poisoning have been attributed to the wet food markets. Most notably, the current coronavirus outbreak causing a huge global health burden since December 2019 is indicated to have originated from the live animal and wet food market in Wuhan China (Aguirre, Catherina, Frye and Shelley 2020, 1).

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The wet food markets have cultural inclination but significant sanitation and health impacts. This paper will evaluate these factors and evaluate the consideration for the global campaign to advocate for the end of these wet food markets.

Zhong, Crang, and Zeng (2019, 176) indicate the cultural value placed on fresh food in China leads to the rise and persistence of wet food markets. In these markets animals especially world animals, and fish, poultry, and seafood are slaughtered live for the customers in market stalls with congested aisles, wet floors, and crowding of customers. Despite the rise of retail chains the wet food markets have continued to remain significant in China due to their competitive pricing and closeness to consumers.

Zhong and Si et al. (2018, 1) contend that the general cultural belief in freshness drives many consumers to purchase products from wet food markets despite the presence of large chain stores such as supermarkets and hypermarkets. An attempt by the Chinese government in the years 200s to convert the wet food markets in a program “nong gai chao” into supermarkets in large cities flopped (2). In cities such as Shanghai, it is estimated that 76% of urban households buy meat from the wet food market. In Dalian City northeast china approximately 49% of the households purchase fresh foods from the wet food market. These markets are generally preferred due to the wide variety of products, cost-effectiveness, and proximity. In the East China city of Nanjing with a population of 8.33 as of 2017, there were 351 wet food markets in the year 2015 indicating their popularity and consumer preference.

The Chinese traditional sayings “the people take food as their heaven” and “Beijing people talk about everything, Shanghai people buy everything and Guangdong people eat everything” signifies the cultural importance embedded in food in China. Preparing food from a freshly slaughtered live animal is considered the most nutritive and delicious form of food intake. The traditional belief that some animal species have health benefits led to the inclusion of exotic wild animals in the food market. For instance, in the Guangdong province of South China eating civets and bats are believed to improve overall health and enhance sexual performance (Woo, Lau, and Yuen 2006, 401).

Traditionally, the Chinese have considered food as parts of drugs and that ingestion of certain foods especially animals could lead to health improvement and they form the basis of traditional Chinese medicine. These beliefs lead to the ingestion of exotic and endangered species contributing to the illegal wildlife trade. Moreover, freshly slaughtered animals as occurs in wet food markets are believed to provide maximal health benefits. For instance, the pangolin which is believed to have been the origin of the coronavirus is a highly-priced and endangered mammal which commonly trafficked to China fetching approximately $800 per kilogram. The pangolin was used in making traditional Chinese medicine and was believed to offer very significant health benefits when taken as food (Zhu1 and Zhu2 2020, 2).

According to Lam and Remais et al. (2015, 5), the Chinese wet food market poses major sanitation challenges due to multiple slaughter of animals in a small and crowded area with a high number of consumers. As of the year 2013, there were approximately 20,000 cases of food poisoning reported in China over the last decade which is regarded as an underestimation. These cases were attributed to microbial food contamination, ingestion of toxic plants and animals, and chemical contamination of food from the wet markets.

Lam, Remais, and Fung et al. (2013, 6) add that water is essential in food preparation and processing. The shortage of clean water and poor sanitation in the Chinese wet food market contribute to the occurrence of foodborne diseases. Inadequate preparation of food contributes to disease. Also, the use of unlawful additives, consumption of raw meat products especially seafood, and ineffective handling, transport, and handling mechanisms for food contribute to health issues.

Kogan and Bolon et al. (2019) in a web review on Trip Advisor for wet markets aimed at identifying the tourist attractiveness of wet food markets and the sanitation-related diseases attributed to these markets. Notably, the review found that food poisoning was the most commonly occurring diagnosis among tourists visiting the food markets accounting for 54% (51/95) of the diagnoses made. In Asia, food poisoning contributed to 56% (22/39) of the diagnoses made in the social network data.

The impact of the coronavirus has been felt globally since the outbreak started in December 2019 at the Chinese wet food market in Wuhan (Zhu1 and Zhu2 2020, 2). According to Aguire, Catherina, Frye, and Shelley (2020, 1) significant evidence that the virus originated from the Chinese wet food market. The Centers for Disease Prevention and control (CDC) in 2020 described the SARS-Cov-2 (COVID-19) causative as a beta coronavirus commonly found in bats. Other viral organisms that have caused major outbreaks in the past such as SARS and MERS have also been found in bats. Besides the virus presence in bats, the coronavirus causing the COVID-19 disease is highly suspected to have originated from the pangolin as the primary host where it could have been transmitted to bats and humans. The transmission of the virus from bats and pangolins is believed to have occurred in the wet food markets or during the transportation of the animals which are illicitly traded in China. Studies from the Institute of Virology in China found coronavirus with 96% matching DNA with the virus responsible for COVID-19 (2).

According to the World Economic Forum, the Chinese wet food market plays a great economic role in the country. The markets also have a cultural and traditional background. Following the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the Chinese food market, most countries such as the United States and Australia demanded the closure of the markets. It is argued that demanding the complete closure of the wet markets will be unfair as they are a source of food to millions and a major economic contributor and lead to racial profiling. China in response to the outbreak enacted policies temporarily banning the sale of world animals. Other than complete closure strategies such as global efforts to stop illegal wildlife trade have been suggested as a potential solution (Beech 2020).


In conclusion, the Chinese wet food market provides food for millions of Chinese accessibly at affordable rates and complements the traditional and cultural beliefs as regards food and medicine. However, poor sanitation and consumption of wild animals continue to cause major global health problems such as the current Covid-19 outbreak. The global efforts to ban the trade of wildlife will be fruitful in averting future pandemics.


Aguirre Alonso, Catherina Richard, Frye Hailey, and Shelley Louise. 2020. “Illicit Wildlife Trade, Wet Markets, and COVID19: Preventing Future Pandemics.” World Medical & Health Policy. doi: 10.1002/wmh3.348

Beech Peter. 2020. “What we’ve got wrong about China's 'Wet Markets' and their Link to COVID-19.” World Economic Forum. Accessed on 9th December 2020.

Kogan Nicole, Bolon Isabelle, Ray Nicolas, Alcoba Gabriel, Fernandez-Marquez Jose, Muller Martin, Mahonty Sharada and Castaneda Rafael. 2019. “Wet Markets and Food Safety: TripAdvisor for Improved Global Digital Surveillance.” JMIR Public Health Surveill. 5(2). doi: 10.2196/11477

Lam Hon-Ming, Remais Justin, Fung Ming-Chiu, Xu Liqing, and Sun Samuel. 2013. “Food Supply and Food Safety Issues in China.” Lancet 381(9882). doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(13)60776-X.

Woo Patrick, Lau Susanna, Yuen Kwok-yung. 2006. “Infectious Diseases Emerging from Chinese Wet-Markets: Zoonotic Origins of Severe Respiratory Viral Infections.” Current Opinion in Infectious Diseases (19): 401 – 407. doi: 10.1097/01.qco.0000244043.08264.fc

Zhong Shuru, Crang Mike and Zeng Guojun. 2020. “Constructing Freshness: The Vitality of Wet Markets in Urban China.” Agriculture and Human Values (37): 175 – 185.

Zhong Taiyang, Si Zhenzhoong, Crush Jonathan, Xu Zhiying, Huang Xianjin, Scott Steffanie, Tang Shuangshuang, Zhang Xiang. 2018. “The Impact of Proximity to Wet Markets and Supermarkets on Household Dietary Diversity in Nanjing City, China.” Sustainability 10(1465). 1465; doi: 10.3390/su10051465

Zhu Annah, Zhu George. 2020. “Understanding China’s Wildlife Markets: Trade and Tradition in an Age of Pandemic. World Development 136.

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