Over 80 live animal markets in New York to be shut in 'vital first step' to stop future coronavirus outbreaks

The legislation also calls for the setting up a task force to examine the safety of these markets and their effect on public health


                            Over 80 live animal markets in New York to be shut in 'vital first step' to stop future coronavirus outbreaks
(Getty Images)

A new bill has been introduced in the New York State Assembly to shut down more than 80 live animal markets in New York City amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

The legislation will convene a task force – the Task Force on Slaughterhouse Public Health and Safety and Animal Welfare – comprising experts in epidemiology, veterinary science and animal welfare to determine whether any amount of regulation can make the slaughterhouses safe enough to operate.

Live markets are places where live animals, such as chickens, ducks, hens, rabbits, goats and cows, among others, are slaughtered on-site and immediately made available for sale as food.

According to a statement, the vast majority of New York’s live animal markets operate next door to schools, playgrounds, and even people’s homes, despite a decade-old state public health law prohibiting new slaughterhouses from operating within 1,500 of a residential building.

“In a matter of weeks, Covid-19 has ravaged New York and changed life for millions of New Yorkers. As policymakers, we have a responsibility to respond to this crisis by doing everything in our power to prevent the next pandemic," says Assemblymember Linda B Rosenthal in the statement.

Closing New York's live animal markets, which operate in residential neighborhoods and do not adhere to even the most basic sanitary standards, until we determine whether they can be made safe, is a vital first step," she added.

Rosenthal introduced the bill along with state Senator Luis Sepúlveda.

According to inspection reports in Rosenthal’s possession, slaughterhouses were routinely issued violations because workers were not wearing protective gear, such as gloves, aprons and shoe covers, when handling and slaughtering animals. Flies, roaches, rats, and other vermin are routinely observed in killing rooms and elsewhere throughout the markets.

"The hundreds of pages of inspection reports document substandard conditions at almost every market in the City. The inspections don't tell the story of a bad actor caught on a bad day, they tell the story of an industry that, as a result of poor regulation and oversight, has allowed conditions to degenerate to the point of becoming a public health risk," says Rosenthal.

Live markets are places where live animals, such as chickens, ducks, hens, rabbits, goats and cows, among others, are slaughtered on-site and immediately made available for sale as food (Getty Images)

The statement also says that the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets suspended all inspections when Covid-19 began in early March, and the slaughterhouses have not been inspected in at least eight weeks, and some, much longer.

"These markets are poorly regulated and pose serious health risks to workers, nearby residents, and all New Yorkers as potential sites for a new virus outbreak. Although some communities use these markets for specific types of meat purchasing, safer alternatives already exist and must be expanded," says Sepúlveda.

The bill says that inspection reports from the department of agriculture and markets indicate ongoing health, safety and welfare problems at New York's markets. The bill would require the Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets to suspend the licenses of all existing live animal markets and to immediately halt issuing any new licenses. 

"The agriculture and markets law is amended by adding a new section: Prohibition of the operation of establishments where animal and/or fowls are slaughtered for food. Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, the commissioner shall not license any person, firm, partnership or corporation to operate any place or establishment where animals and/or fowls are slaughtered or butchered for food," says the bill.

It further says, "The commissioner shall immediately suspend the license of any person, firm, partnership or corporation that currently holds a license issued by the commissioner to operate any place or establishment where animals and/or fowls are slaughtered or butchered for food."

Besides, the bill would require the creation of a task force, which will consist of seven members. They will examine facilities licensed by the department and their effect on public health and safety and animal welfare. The task force will report their findings within a year of its first meeting and include recommendations for further action and legislation.

The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets suspended all inspections when Covid-19 began in early March, and the slaughterhouses have not been inspected in at least 8 weeks, and some, much longer, says a statement (Getty Images)

The bill has been supported by many. "Avoiding future pandemics like the Covid-19 global crisis requires a total ban on live markets, including 80 in New York City alone. Poultry flocks are breeding grounds for influenza A viruses, and live animal markets are the source of coronavirus," says Neal Barnard, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

“To prevent the next pandemic, the minimal first step is to shut down the wet markets. By mingling different species together in cruel, unsanitary ways and in close contact with humans, we are just asking for even more trouble than what we face today. Wet markets are ideal conditions for new viruses to emerge and jump from one species to another and ultimately to humans,” says neurologist and public health specialist Aysha Akhtar, chief executive office of the Center for Contemporary Sciences.

A wet market in Wuhan, China, was initially believed to be the source of Covid-19. However, scientists are yet to determine where the new coronavirus originated as well as the original host of the virus. Scientists suspect that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, may have jumped from bats to humans via an intermediary host. 

"Although Covid-19 originated in China, it could have come from anywhere. Our focus should be addressing the root of the problem. It is not the 'where', but is the 'what'. This virus could have originated in any country that exploits and commodifies animals including right here in the US. Humanity as a whole owns this virus as we continually exploit animals and allow the threat to continue," says Judie Mancuso, founder and president of Social Compassion in Legislation, who is spearheading advocacy efforts in New York and California.

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