The pandemic spread from a market in Wuhan, where animals were sold from cages and slaughtered on the spot, in less than ideal sanitary conditions, because of a premium placed on freshness.
While directives from the Communist Party leadership are rarely challenged openly, a permanent ban has powerful constituencies and interests arrayed against it. There are already signs of internal debates.
Some cities have moved ahead with bans on hunting and selling wild game, including Beijing last week. Wuhan also announced a five-year ban. In rural regions like Mr. Mao’s, though, officials have been lobbying for exemptions, in part to meet the target set by China’s leader, Xi Jinping, to eradicate extreme poverty by this year.
The Ministry of Agriculture last week removed dogs from its “white list” of approved domesticated livestock — a victory for those who have campaigned against the tradition of eating dog meat. But it also added two new species previously considered wild, emus and Muscovy duck, allowing for them to still be sold.
It did not add bamboo rats, despite appeals from farmers in Mr. Mao’s region, Guangxi. The rats are covered by a separate government list of 54 wild animals approved for capture, sale and consumption, reflecting the myriad and overlapping laws governing the trade.
“It is disappointing that China has lost this rare opportunity to take the lead and set a great example for the world by passing progressive legislation for preventing future pandemics,” Pei Su, who leads ACTAsia, an international animal-rights organization, said in a statement.
The government has already made exceptions for the use of wild animals for fur and traditional Chinese medicine, which the Communist Party authorities have actively promoted, including the use of bear bile as a treatment for Covid-19.