RELATED: Evidence says coronavirus 'could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated' in lab, says Fauci
The leading theory is the pandemic started in a live animal market in Wuhan, China, but do some markets here pose a risk?
This controversy has played out over several decades in the Bay Area, but it's getting new life because of the pandemic. A word of caution - some of the pictures in this story may be disturbing to you.
Eric Mills has campaigned for 25 years to close the live animal markets that the ABC7 I-Team's Dan Noyes toured the last few days in Oakland and San Francisco.
He told Noyes, "The United States has markets very similar to those in China where this coronavirus originated with animals living cheek to jowl, with the human population, wild animals and domestic, just a disaster begging to happen."
The I-Team visited stores selling live poultry to go or killed on the spot, seafood stores with huge fish in tanks, many types of crustaceans, and live bullfrogs imported from China.
RELATED: What will it take to get a COVID-19 vaccine and how will it be made?
Turtles go for $20. They have to be killed before a customer takes them home.
Noyes: "And you kill it here?"
Worker: "Yeah, yeah."
"We've had something like two dozen necropsies done on the frogs and turtles over the years," said Mills. "And without exception, they're all diseased or parasitized."
Over the years, Mills tried a lawsuit to close the markets, lobbied county supervisors, even got a bill introduced in Sacramento.
Dan Noyes: "But it never worked."
Ding Lee of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association said, "Yes, never worked."
Community leader Ding Lee tells us San Francisco's Chinese-Americans wield considerable political clout, and they've successfully argued that the live animal markets are part of their cultural traditions.
"You'll hurt some people's feelings," said Lee. "They have old-fashioned, traditional thought, they say, 'Hey, we eat that for more than 5,000 years.' That's our culture."
RELATED: 'Virus hunters' say key to preventing next pandemic is protecting wild animals and their habitats
But the novel coronavirus may provide a new warning about live animal markets. The leading theory is COVID-19 passed from a bat to another animal and then a human, at this market in Wuhan, China.
Poorva Joshipura, Senior VP International Affairs for PETA, told us, "Having just one species is dangerous enough, as we know from bird flu and swine flu and the like, but when you mix different species of animals together, you're just waiting for a huge disaster to happen."
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals gave us video of live animal markets operating right now - even after the coronavirus pandemic erupted - in Thailand and Indonesia; all sorts of animals, wild and domestic for human consumption.
LIST: Where can I get tested for COVID-19 in the San Francisco Bay Area?
PETA is urging the World Health Organization "to call for the immediate and permanent closure of all live-animal meat markets worldwide," as are members of Congress, including San Francisco Senator Dianne Feinstein.
"How can we tell China or Vietnam or India to close their wet markets when we haven't done that here?" Joshipura said. "We have to lead by example."
This has been a point of contention for years and years, but it looks like there could be some room for change.
Ding Lee tells us he would favor closing live animal markets, if a link to the coronavirus pandemic is scientifically proven.
Lee: "If for the majority of opinion, I would agree with that."
Noyes: "If it was in the public good?"
Lee: "Yeah, for the public healthy."
Eric Mills added, "And if we learn nothing else from this god-awful pandemic, we need to learn a little humility and to share the planet with others, and with a little compassion for human and non-human alike."
RELATED: I-Team tracks COVID-19 pandemic through flight data
State Senator Henry Stern from LA has announced, he's sponsoring a measure to ban live animal markets. The San Francisco Department of Public Health tells us, they would enforce a ban, but under current law, the markets are allowed to operate.
Eric Mills has started a petition urging Governor Newsom to take action.
If you have a question or comment about the coronavirus pandemic, submit yours via the form below or here.
Get the latest news, information and videos about the novel coronavirus pandemic here
RELATED STORIES & VIDEOS:
- COVID-19 Help: Comprehensive list of resources, information
- INTERACTIVE TIMELINE: How close was CA to becoming a NY-level crisis?
- Live updates about coronavirus outbreak in US, around the world
- What will it take to get a COVID-19 vaccine and how will it be made?
- How California's COVID-19 cases stack up against other hot spot states
- Everything you need to know about the Bay Area's shelter-in-place order
- Coronavirus Timeline: Tracking major moments of COVID-19 pandemic in San Francisco Bay Area/
- List: Where can I get tested for COVID-19 in the Bay Area?
- COVID-19 Diaries: Personal stories of Bay Area residents during novel coronavirus pandemic
- Coronavirus Doctor's Note: Dr. Alok Patel gives his insight into COVID-19 pandemic
- What does COVID-19 do to your body and why does it spread so easily?
- Stimulus calculator: How much money should you expect from coronavirus relief bill
- WATCH: 'Race & Coronavirus: A Bay Area Conversation' virtual town hall about COVID-19 impact on Asian American community
- WATCH: 'Race & Coronavirus: A Bay Area Conversation' virtual town hall about COVID-19 impact on African American community
- What Bay Area tenants need to know about rent payments, eviction amid COVID-19 outbreak
- Here's how shelter in place, stay at home orders can slow spread of COVID-19
- Symptoms, prevention, and how to prepare for a COVID-19 outbreak in the US
- List of stores, companies closing due to coronavirus pandemic
- Canceled late fees, free services available amid COVID-19 crisis
- Here's how you can help during COVID-19 pandemic
- How to maintain learning during school closures
- No masks but here are 100+ products that may help protect you against novel coronavirus germs
- Here's a look at some of history's worst pandemics that have killed millions