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Experts believe the coronavirus pandemic may have started at a food market in China - a market where wild animals can be bought and slaughtered on the spot. Now there are growing calls to ban these types of places worldwide. NPR's Jackie Northam reports.
JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: You can find so-called wet markets across China. They're usually a jumble of stalls carrying produce, seafood, some farm meat. But the problem is sometimes these wet markets also carry illegal wildlife, crammed into unsanitary cages - bats stacked on top of pigs on top of pangolins on top of civet cats.
JAN VERTEFEUILLE: And all their bodily fluids are kind of flowing into each other. You've got very distressed animals who shed more viruses when they're stressed because we're all susceptible, when we're stressed, to illness. And all those viruses are mixing with each other.
NORTHAM: Jan Vertefeuille is a senior adviser for advocacy at the World Wildlife Fund. She says those viruses can spill over to people, turning the market into a giant petri dish.
VERTEFEUILLE: It's the perfect recipe for an epidemic.
NORTHAM: Vertefeuille is leading the World Wildlife Fund's efforts to close down these high-risk wildlife markets. Her group is part of a growing chorus amongst politicians, advocacy groups and government agencies and includes the top infectious disease expert in the U.S., Anthony Fauci, who made no bones about how he feels about the wet markets recently on Fox News.
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ANTHONY FAUCI: I think they should shut down those things right away. I mean, it just - it boggles my mind how when we have so many diseases that emanate out of that unusual human-animal interface that we don't just shut it down.
NORTHAM: In the wake of the coronavirus, China's government banned selling wild animals at the wet markets. It did the same thing after the 2003 SARS outbreak. But the ban back then didn't last, says Republican Congressman Michael McCaul of Texas.
MICHAEL MCCAUL: We didn't learn the lessons from the past, and I think that's what we want to be looking at now - is, how can we stop this from happening ever again?
NORTHAM: The question is whether a ban is enforceable because a lot of the trade in these wild animals is already illegal but still widespread. McCaul is among a bipartisan group of more than 60 congressmen calling on international bodies, such as the World Health Organization, to ban live wildlife markets.
MCCAUL: We need to take a hard look at - how can we make the WHO more effective? How can they have more authority to go in and stop the global pandemic?
NORTHAM: But the WHO, a unit of the United Nations, doesn't have enforcement power. All it can do is offer guidance. It says wet markets are an important source of food and jobs all over the world but that governments should ensure food safety and rigorously enforce bans on the sale of wildlife.
Jackie Northam, NPR News.
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