China takes wild animals off the menu amid coronavirus epidemic – does that mean no more frog porridge?, China News


Turtle soup, rice porridge with water snake or frog, snake soup, frog leg clay pot rice – could popular dishes in Chinese cuisine like these be off restaurant menus in China for good?

That’s the worry of chefs, food critics and restaurant owners after the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, China‘s top lawmaking body, banned the trade and consumption of wild animals in late February as part of measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

The virus has infected more than 95,000 people and killed more than 3,300, most of them in China.

It has disrupted China‘s economy, international travel and global supply chains.

The consumption of wild animals has drawn much government scrutiny, as both the current Covid-19 epidemic and the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), another coronavirus, have been associated with markets in China selling meat from wild animals.

The Sars virus originated in bats and then likely spread to civet cats – a wild animal considered a delicacy in parts of southern China – in a wet market in the southern city of Fushan, before it infected humans.

The new coronavirus is believed to have spread from bats, possibly via snakes, to humans in a market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where wild animals were sold in open-air markets.

While the government has yet to define the meaning of “wild animals”, the municipal government in Shenzhen, a tech hub bordering Hong Kong, introduced draft regulations containing a “white list” of only nine meats permitted for human consumption a few days after the resolution by the National People’s Congress.

The list includes pork, beef, chicken and rabbit, along with fish and seafood, but excludes cats, dogs, snakes, turtles and frogs.

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On January 26, the Huangsha Aquatic Products Market in Guangzhou, capital of southern Guangdong province, posted a notice banning the sale of farmed snakes, crocodiles, giant salamanders, and turtles, including Chinese soft-shelled turtles.

The Shenzhen Special Zone Daily newspaper quoted local authorities as saying they had decided not to publish a “black list” of banned meats because China has tens of thousands of species of wild animals and it was impossible for such a list to be comprehensive.

The lack of an exhaustive list of what is, and is not, allowed has led to widespread confusion in the restaurant industry in China.

Duan Ran, a member of China Fisheries Association who owns 11 restaurants, thinks that ingredients such as giant salamanders and snakes might be banned permanently.

The giant salamander has been a legally protected animal in China since 1989.

Fried eight treasure giant salamander is a famous traditional dish in Shaanxi province in western China.

Snake is consumed widely across southern China, especially in snake soup, which is made using the meat of several snake species along with chicken, pork, sugar cane, mandarin peel and white pepper.

Duan believes bans on eating frog and soft-shelled turtle will not be permanent, and that they will be lifted after the coronavirus outbreak is over, because of the long history of raising these animals for consumption in China.

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“Among frog species, bullfrog constitutes a big market in China. There is also a seven-decade history of farming bullfrogs in China, with many people working in the industry. Bullfrog is considered a domesticated farmed animal,” he says.

Frog breeders in China have been among the most vocal in expressing their concerns about losing their livelihood following the ban.

In Guangdong and Hainan, another southern province, breeders have posted online petitions appealing to authorities to allow them to keep rearing the animals despite the national ban on the wildlife trade.

A 2017 report by the Chinese Academy of Engineering estimated that frog breeding alone was a 50 billion yuan (S$10 billion) business employing about a million people in 2016.

Many restaurant chains in China specialise in frog dishes.

They include the Wawajiao chain, which specialises in frog dry pot, and Walaida, which have more than 100,000 staff.

Duan says Chinese soft-shelled turtle also has a big market in China and a long history of consumption. “There are listed companies specialising in the Chinese soft-shelled turtle business. The odds of it being banned outright are low,” he says.

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In early March, a doctor in Wuhan, central China, where the coronavirus outbreak began, posted on Weibo, China‘s answer to Twitter, a picture of the dishes provided at the hospital where he works, which included fried soft-shelled turtle.

This led to great controversy online, with internet users criticising the doctor for consuming wildlife.

In addition to soft-shelled turtle and frog, there’s also uncertainty over the consumption of similar wild animal species that are bred on a large scale on farms, such as mud fish and swamp eel.

Paul Lu Yuguo, a Beijing chef and former deputy secretary general of the Beijing Cuisine Association, says that the Chinese government’s ban on wildlife consumption will not affect the development of Chinese cuisine.

“Wildlife does not represent Chinese cuisine food ingredients,” he says.

Hong Kong-based food critic and blogger K.C. Koo, of gourmetkc.com, also says that, since the farming of certain wild animals has a long history in China and can be regulated, the bans will be lifted after the coronavirus outbreak.

“Like the consumption of rabbits in Chengdu, it’s a long-established tradition. The rabbits are also not wild catch. The government wants to outlaw wanton killing and eating of wildlife. But frog farming is far from wanton killing and it [doesn’t make sense] to ban it.

“‘Wild animal’ is a broad term which can include wild ducks and chickens, too. Any animals that are not farmed can be regarded as wild. It will be difficult to ban all of them. Just certain animals that can pose a danger, like bats and civets, will be banned due to the current virus outbreak. But such animals never constituted a mainstream part of Chinese cuisine.”

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This article was first published in South China Morning Post.



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