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A new study involving NDPH researchers indicates that a blanket ban on the wild meat trade could have severe health and environmental impacts, particularly for low-income countries. The results are published today in the journal Current Biology.

The coronavirus pandemic has ignited a wide debate on the role of the wild meat trade, since the earliest cases of COVID-19 were linked to a fresh produce market in China. This has led to calls from conservation, wildlife protection, and animal welfare campaigners to ban the hunting of all wild animals for food and to end the trade in wild animals. For many parts of the world, however, wildlife is an important food source, including Sub-Saharan Africa, North America and China, and such a ban would ultimately result in a ‘nutrition gap.’ This would either leave populations hungry, or lead to increased production of domestic livestock.

Researchers from NDPH and the Oxford Martin School led an international team from 10 countries that assessed the impact of such a ban on the food systems of 83 countries to enable policy makers and governments to consider the wider potential consequences. The study calculated how much animal protein would be lost from diets if a ban on wild meat was introduced, and the amount of agricultural land needed to replace this through livestock production.

The results indicate that removing wild meat from global diets could leave millions of people food-insecure, and that average per-capita protein intake could fall below healthy levels in several countries. This would likely result in increased prevalence of chronic health issues caused by malnutrition. Furthermore, the greatest risks to food security fell on countries already in the bottom 50% of the global food insecurity index. The eight countries that would face the highest risk of protein deficiency if wild meat was banned were all in Sub-Saharan Africa, including the Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Zimbabwe and Côte d’Ivoire.

The study also found that replacing wild meat with livestock could have critical impacts on global biodiversity, due to the additional amount of land required for agricultural production. It was estimated that the USA and Nigeria would require over 10,000 km2 each, while Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, Ecuador, Cote d’Ivoire, Bolivia and Venezuela would need 5-10,000 km2. Globally, more than 250 species could be set on a pathway to extinction as a result of this land use change.

The wildlife trade has been linked with various disease outbreaks, including ebola and SARS. But globally, only around 2% of zoonotic infectious diseases are associated with wild meat harvesting, whilst over half are associated with agricultural expansion and intensification. As humans expand into natural areas, the risk of diseases crossing from wildlife into livestock or people significantly increases.

‘Our study clearly shows that the complete removal of wild meat from diets and markets would cause a shock to global food systems, and could have severe negative consequences for both people and nature. We are not arguing that wildlife trade should not be managed, but we need interventions that acknowledge the local context, interconnectivity of global food systems, and the food security of vulnerable people’ said Dr Michael Clark, of NDPH and the Oxford Martin Programme.