Coronavirus impact: Calls mount to close live animal markets in Bay Area amid COVID-19 crisis

Warning: Some of the pictures in this story may be disturbing to some
SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- New calls are coming to shut down the Bay Area's live animal markets in light of the novel coronavirus.

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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.

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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."

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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.

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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."

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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.

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