Wet markets have been implicated in multiple zoonotic outbreaks, including COVID-19. They are also a conduit for legal and illegal trade in wildlife, which threatens thousands of species. Yet wet markets supply food to millions of people around the world, and differ drastically in their physical composition, the goods they sell, and the subsequent risks they pose. As such, policy makers need to know how to target their actions to efficiently safeguard human health and biodiversity without depriving people of ready access to food. Here, we propose a taxonomy of wet markets, oriented around the presence of live or dead animals, and whether those animals are domesticated or wild (either captive-reared or wild-caught). We assess the dimensions and levels of risk that different types of wet markets pose to people and to biodiversity. We identify six key risk factors of wet markets that can affect human health: (1) presence of high disease-risk animal taxa, (2) presence of live animals, (3) hygiene conditions, (4) market size, (5) animal density and interspecies mixing, and (6) the length and breadth of animal supply chains. We also identify key factors informing risk to biodiversity. Finally, we recommend targeted, risk-adjusted policies to more efficiently and humanely address the dangers posed by wet markets.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Medicine (miscellaneous)
- Health(social science)
- Health Policy
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health