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China: Legislative Decision Passed to Punish Trade and Consumption of Wild Animals amid COVID-19 Epidemic

(Mar. 19, 2020) On February 24, 2020, the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress (NPCSC) passed the Decision on Completely Prohibiting the Illegal Wildlife Trade, Eliminating the Bad Habit of Indiscriminately Eating Wild Animals, and Truly Ensuring the Health and Safety of the People. The decision took effect on the same day. (English translation available at Westlaw China by subscription.)

It has been reported that the outbreak of COVID-19 may have begun in a wild animal market in Wuhan, Hubei Province, and that pangolins were a possible host of the coronavirus before it jumped to people.

The NPCSC decision’s preface states that the decision was passed with the view of comprehensively banning and punishing illegal wildlife trade, eliminating “the bad habits of indiscriminately eating wild animals,” maintaining biosecurity and ecological security, preventing public health risks, protecting the health and safety of the people, enhancing the “construction of an ecological civilization,” and promoting the harmonious coexistence of nature and humankind.

According to the decision, punishments for any hunting, trading, transporting, or eating of wildlife that violates the Wildlife Protection Law will be increased on the basis of the punishments prescribed by existing laws. (Art. 1.)

The decision further prohibits consumption of “terrestrial wildlife of important ecological, scientific or social value” and other terrestrial wildlife protected by the state, including terrestrial wildlife artificially bred or raised. (Art. 2.)

Significantly, the decision bans hunting, trading, and transporting, for the purpose of eating, any terrestrial wildlife that grow and reproduce naturally in the wild. Punishments of violators will be based on those prescribed in the existing laws. (Art. 2.)

Consumption of aquatic wild animals and domestic livestock and poultry included in the “catalogue of livestock and poultry genetic resources” is not prohibited. (Art. 3.) The use of wildlife for scientific research, medical uses, or exhibition is also not prohibited, but requires undergoing a strict approval process and quarantine inspections. (Art. 4.)

China’s current Wildlife Protection Law, which was first passed in 1988, substantially revised in 2016, and most recently amended in 2018, protects only “rare and endangered terrestrial and aquatic wildlife and terrestrial wildlife of important ecological, scientific and social value.” (Wildlife Protection Law art. 2.) The NPCSC Legislative Affairs Committee has proposed that a revision of the law be listed on the NPCSC’s 2020 legislation agenda.