Dem Defends Wet Markets in Face of Scientific Consensus About Their Dangers

Rep. Casten wants to preserve Chinese wet markets suspected as source of pandemic

Wet market in Macau, China / Getty Images
April 16, 2020

An Illinois Democrat who has blamed President Trump for coronavirus deaths defended Chinese wet markets at a Monday tele-townhall, ignoring the scientific consensus that they are breeding grounds for deadly diseases.

"I think we need to be careful about laying all the blame on a particular cultural practice in a country that we don't live in," Rep. Sean Casten (D., Ill.) told his constituents. "These viruses could hop from animals to humans, but you don't shut that down just by shutting down a particular cultural practice that we aren't familiar with."

Casten has frequently accused President Donald Trump of killing Americans by disseminating misinformation about the pandemic, going so far as to say the president's daily coronavirus briefings are "getting people killed." His defense of wet markets, however, contradicts a scientific consensus dating back to 2006 that such markets pose a significant public health risk. While China has restricted the country's scientists from pinpointing the exact origins of the virus, existing evidence suggests that the virus started in a wet market in Wuhan, China.

Casten's defense of wet markets also runs counter to the policies advocated by Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top doctor on the Trump administration's coronavirus taskforce.

"[They] should shut down those things right away," Fauci said on April 2, referring to the wet markets. "It just boggles my mind that when we have so many diseases that emanate out of that unusual human-animal interface that we don't just shut it down."

This is not the first time Casten has disseminated false information about coronavirus. In March, the congressman refused to assign any blame to China for its mishandling of the pandemic, asserting that "viruses don't know borders." In reality, Beijing significantly exacerbated the outbreak by clamping down on whistleblowers and refusing to publicly announce the severity of the disease in the early days of the pandemic. If China responded to the outbreak three weeks earlier, there would have been 95 percent fewer cases, according to one study.

Casten did not respond to a request for comment.

Casten mentioned the avian flu when he defended the wet markets, arguing that the problem lies not with unregulated markets but the vector animals that transmit the disease to human beings. He neglected to tell constituents that the 2006 avian flu, as well as the 2003 SARS outbreak, actually originated in Asian wet markets. Experts began calling for restrictions on wet markets as early as 2010, according to the South China Morning Post.

Chinese propagandists have pointed to wet markets as the likely source of the deadly contagion. Xinhua News Agency, a state-owned media outlet, reported in January that a "large quantity of novel coronavirus" was detected in Wuhan's wet markets. China has since allowed some city wet markets to reopen, pushing a bipartisan group of 70 members of Congress to send a letter to the World Health Organization demanding a ban on the sales of live wildlife. China has a nominal ban on such sales, but experts have said loopholes have rendered reforms toothless.

Jeanne Ives, the Republican candidate challenging Casten, criticized the Illinois Democrat for offering political cover to China by defending wet markets.

"While we don't know that COVID-19 originated in the wet markets, there is strong evidence that the spread was escalated there. Regardless, everything China does should be suspect and investigated now," an Ives campaign spokeswoman said. "And Sean Casten has done nothing but praise and defend them."