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Amid much speculation and misinformation about what wet markets are since the COVID-19 outbreak, Xaq Frohlich, assistant professor of history, shared his expert knowledge to separate fact from fiction. Frohlich's research focuses on the historical intersections of science, law, and markets, and how the three have shaped our modern everyday understanding of food, risk, and responsibility.

"There is still quite a lot of uncertainty about where the virus first came from, and it is possible that we may never know with certainty,"  Frolich said. "That said, there is one thing we do know: this virus is not man-made. Its genome reflects a natural evolution from other similar known coronaviruses. So, the source would have to be some spillover event that made it possible for a naturally occurring virus in another animal to enter our habitat and infect humans, making it a zoonotic disease. This could have happened from people selling live animals in a crowded wet market." 

"Historically, wet markets have been the common form of how people got fresh food and could be found in most cities, often located at river or sea ports all over the world, even here in the United States. So, the real questions are, why are wet markets no longer common in the United States and Europe, and why do they continue to exist in Asia?”

Frohlich earned his doctorate in history, anthropology and science and technology studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2011 and has been on faculty at Auburn since 2017. He is currently completing a book manuscript, From Label to Table: Regulating Food in the Information Age, which explores the history of efforts by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, to manage food markets through the regulation of food labels in the second half of the twentieth century.

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