China Dinner Delicacies Succumb To SARS Scare

By Gady A. Epstein

Sun Foreign Staff

Originally published May 14, 2003


…..In southern China, where people have had a centuries-old carnivorous love affair with wild animals, the question of whether SARS might have come from animals is not simply academic. The disease, which emerged here in November, has disrupted eating habits and provoked scrutiny of unsanitary farming practices. It has also forced Chinese to wonder whether, as many scientists have long believed, there may be something about southern China and animals that makes it a wellspring for disease.

“The relationship between human beings and animals is closer here than anywhere else” in China, said Xie Jinkui, a doctor in the mountain city of Heyuan who treated early victims, including Deng Tianlong, who contracted SARS in December after coming here to buy animals for her local market. “People here like to eat wild animals,” Xie said, “and therefore there are more people who prepare them, who cook them, who raise them, who sell them, who eat them. So, there are many more chances to catch disease.”…

The long chain of animal-human contact makes it difficult to pinpoint when and where the disease might have crossed from animals to humans, before spreading via buses, trains, boats and planes to the rest of China and 29 other countries, killing 573 people and infecting 7,548 worldwide. Did the virus migrate from poultry with weak immune systems to pigs to humans on unsanitary farms, as some scientists initially theorized? Or did people catch it from handling or eating infected wild animals, as an increasing number of experts now suggest? In a broad search for clues to the virus’ origins, the WHO team pored over early patient data with scientists from the Guangdong Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and asked health officials for any information about unusual die-offs of animals.

More intriguing, recent government orders seem to focus on the threat posed by wild animals rather than livestock… It is an amazing turnaround for a region known in China for its taste for wild animals. Tradition dictates that wild animals are more nutritious – the rarer the better – and that certain animal parts convey particular health benefits, in some cases for the corresponding human body part. Monkey brains, for example, are said to make the eater smarter; sex organs of deer, tigers, seals and other animals are said to help boost virility or cure infertility. But with endangered or threatened species often finding their way onto menus, the practice has come under increasing fire from inside and outside China, in addition to drawing criticism from Chinese who consider eating wildlife an uncivilized relic of another age. SARS has given a boost to advocates of a nationwide ban on the eating of wildlife……


** Abdullah ibn Abbas reported that the Messenger of Allah prohibited every beast having a fang (wild animals) and every bird having a talon (i.e. sharp hooked claw). (Narrated by Muslim)

** Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah said, “Every fanged beast (i.e. wild animals) is unlawful for food.” (Narrated by Muslim)


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