New Legislation Introduced In New York Calls For Immediate Ban Of More Than 80 Live Animal Markets To Help Prevent The Spread Of Disease

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Earlier this week, New York State Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal (D/WF-Manhattan) anState Senator Luis Sepúlveda (D/Bronx) announced new legislation, A.10399, to shut down New York’s live animal markets to help prevent the spread of zoonotic diseases.

There is growing scientific consensus that COVID-19, like other zoonotic diseases before it, such as SARS and H1N1, had its origins in live animal markets. New York City is home to more than 80 live animal markets.

The bill, which would take effect immediately, 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 legislation will also convene a taskforce – The Task Force on Slaughterhouse Public Health and Safety and Animal Welfare – comprised of 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 even cows, are slaughtered on site and immediately made available for sale as food. The vast majority New York’s live animal markets operate next door to schools, playgrounds, and even people’s homes; this despite a decade-old State public health law prohibiting new slaughterhouses from operating within 1,500 ft. of a residential building.

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

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused disruption and despair across the globe, and we remain vulnerable to future crises if we do not take action to tackle the root causes. Live animal markets are a breeding ground for disease transmission, and New York City is home to over 80 of them. 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,” shared State Senator Sepúlveda. “Although some communities use these markets for specific types of meat purchasing, safer alternatives already exist and must be expanded. It is long overdue for this glaring issue to be addressed, and with NYC being an epicenter of this global public health crisis, it is vital that we close all of NYC’s live animal markets.”

Dr. Neal Barnard, President of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine agrees. “Avoiding future pandemics like the COVID-19 global crisis requires a total ban on live markets, including 80 in New York City alone,” stated Barnard. “Poultry flocks are breeding grounds for influenza A viruses, and live animal markets are the source of coronavirus.”

Zoonotic diseases originate in animals and are easily transmittable to humans who come into contact with infected animals, their bodily fluids, or even surfaces that those animals have touched. Many animals who appear otherwise healthy can be carriers of various zoonotic diseases. According to the Centers for Disease Control, zoonotic diseases are quite common worldwide, and scientists estimate that three out of every four new or emerging diseases in people come from animals.

“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,’” said Judie Mancuso, Founder and President of Social Compassion in Legislation, who is spearheading the advocacy efforts in New York and California. “This virus could have originated in any country that exploits and commodifies animals including right here in the USA. Humanity as a whole owns this virus as we continually exploit animals and allow the threat to continue.”

Though the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets is responsible for licensing and inspecting the slaughterhouses, the agency employs three inspectors to oversee slaughterhouses statewide, in addition to their other inspection duties. Inspection reports covering a four-month period in 2018 obtained by the Humane Society of New York via a Freedom of Information Law request details unsanitary conditions at most of the slaughterhouses inspected.

“The Humane Society of New York applauds Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal and State Senator Luis Sepúlveda for introducing legislation to close down live animal markets and to establish a task force of experts to study the impact these markets have on our health and the well-being of animals. Experts throughout the world have stated that the COVID-19 crisis is likely attributable to live animal markets. And, the live animal markets right here in New York State have numerous and ongoing health, safety, and welfare violations as documented in the Department of Agriculture and Markets’ inspection reports. These reports depict an “industry” where unsanitary, unhealthful, and inhumane conditions abound. It is imperative that live animal markets in our state be immediately shut down,” said Elinor Molbegott, Esq., Legal Counsel/Animal Issues, Humane Society of New York.

According to the inspection reports in Assemblymember 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 insects and small animals are routinely observed in killing rooms and elsewhere throughout the markets.

In addition, the markets were cited for allowing machinery used to de-feather and eviscerate the animals to become caked with thick “gunk,” this made for inadequate drainage and HVAC which caused pooling of blood and viscera inside killing rooms and other areas inside the markets, and for not properly cleaning public streets and sidewalks. In one report, inspectors who were called out by neighbors complaining of a putrid odor observed bags of animal blood stacked in the backyard of the slaughterhouse. The bags were observable from the public sidewalk and were leaking blood and other biological materials onto the ground. Despite the conditions at the markets, Ag and Markets has no record of closing a slaughterhouse as a result of mounting violations.

As noted by Assemblymember Rosenthal, “The hundreds of pages of inspection reports document substandard conditions at almost every market in the City.”

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.

“We know that plenty of people are probably already becoming sickened as a result of the unsanitary conditions at the slaughterhouses, with mild flu-like symptoms most would likely not trace back to the markets,” continued Assemblymember Rosenthal. “We don’t need to wait for the next pandemic to spring out of one of our markets to close down these obvious potential vectors for disease.”

The welfare and treatment of the animals contributes to the poor conditions and makes the environment ripe for disease transmission. Reports and video recorded by advocates at the markets show chicken cages that are stacked one on top of the other to the ceiling. Inside, the chickens are allowed to defecate and urinate on the animals in the cages below them. The cages are overcrowded and many of the animals are injured during transport, others are sick and they are not provided with food or water. As a result, advocates have reported witnessing chickens cannibalizing themselves and others for food and to make room in their cages.

Violations of New York State’s animal cruelty laws are minimally enforced; when asked, Ag and Markets were unable to report how many times inspectors had contacted local law enforcement to investigate cruelty violations observed during the course of a market inspection.

“I urge New Yorkers to support Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal and State Senator Luis Sepúlveda’s anti-wet market bill to make our world safer by limiting the horrendous diseases that are transmitted in such venues, and put an end to the cruel agony that the victimized animals endure in these filthy settings,” said Holly Cheever, DVM, New York State Humane Association, V.P., and Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, Leadership Council member. “We can’t afford the utter devastation to our health, our culture, and our economy that this catastrophic pandemic illness has caused, and will continue to appear if wet markets are not abolished in our state and country.”

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