Diets, Diseases, and Discourse: Lessons from COVID-19 for Trade in Wildlife, Public Health, and Food Systems Reform
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light significant failures and fragilities in our food, health, and market systems. Concomitantly, it has emphasized the urgent need for a critical re-evaluation of many of the policies and practices that have created the conditions in which viral pathogens can spread. However, there are many factors that are complicating this process; among others, the uncertain, rapidly evolving, and often poorly reported science surrounding the virus’ origins has contributed to a politically charged and often rancorous public debate, which is concerning insofar as the proliferation of divisive discourse may hinder efforts to address complex and collective concerns in a mutually cooperative manner. In developing ethical and effective responses to the disproportionate risks associated with certain food production and consumption practices, we argue that the focus should be on mitigating such risks wherever they arise, instead of seeking to ascribe blame to specific countries or cultures. To this end, this article is an effort to inject some nuance into contemporary conversations about COVID-19 and its broader implications, particularly when it comes to trade in wildlife, public health, and food systems reform. If COVID-19 is to represent a turning point towards building a more equitable, sustainable, and resilient world for both humans and nonhuman animals alike, the kind of fractioning that is currently being exacerbated by the use of loaded terms such as “wet market” must be eschewed in favour of a greater recognition of our fundamental interconnectedness.