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Legislation Proposed To Shutter New York’s Live Markets To Reduce Risk Of Disease Spread

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

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 markets. 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, 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,” said Assemblymember Linda B. 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. 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. I am grateful to my colleague Assemblymember Rosenthal for her leadership on this important issue, said State Senator Luis Sepúlveda.”

Dr. Barnard, President of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine said, “Avoiding future pandemics like the COVID-19 global crisis requires a total ban on live markets, including 80 in New York City alone,” says Neal Barnard, MD, FACC. “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 infected animals, their bodily fluids or surfaces that those animals have touched. Many animals who appear otherwise healthy can be carriers of various zoonotic disease. 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 (HSNY) via a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request detail unsanitary conditions at most of 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 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 vermin 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,” 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 slaughterhouse backyard. 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.

“The hundreds of pages of inspection reports document substandard conditions at almost every market in the City,” said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal. “The inspections do not 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.”

“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,” said Aysha Akhtar, MD, said MPH, Neurologist and public health specialist, Chief Executive Office of the Center for Contemporary Sciences.

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.

Previous veterinary examinations have discovered in chicken the presence of H2N2, a strain of influenza also known as the Avian Flu, widely believed to be the cause of the 1889 and 1957 human pandemic. In a call about New York’s live animal markets with representatives from Ag and Markets, representatives from the Animal Industry Division, expressed concern about H2N2, a pathogen of concern that inspectors were paying close attention to.

“The low virulence Newcastle could have been induced via vaccination, and Newcastle is not generally a disease thought to effect humans (other than conjunctivitis, rarely). But the detection of H2N2 influenza virus is significant, in my opinion, despite the fact that the H2N2 they found was low virulence. As we know, these viruses mutate and a low virulence version can become a highly virulent virus that can be transmitted into humans and then jump from human to human. The flu pandemic of 1957 was caused by an H2N2 virus. Knowing that this virus is present in the birds at the live market tells us that a mutation event is entirely possible, and could lead to the next pandemic,” said Dr. Sherstin Rosenberg is a veterinarian in California and also runs a sanctuary called Happy Hen Chicken Rescue. “It is possible a human could become sick from touching body fluids from a bird, but it’s also possible that aerosolization of these fluids (respiratory or digestive) could provide a vehicle for viral transmission. Eating the bird is not necessary, and likely would not pose a risk.”

“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,” said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal. “We do not 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, other 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 was unable to report how many times inspectors had contacted local law enforcement to investigate cruelty violations observed during the course of a market inspection.

“We need filthy meat markets like a swimmer needs a crocodile—for as long as we keep them open, we put ourselves in mortal danger,” says PETA President Ingrid Newkirk. “PETA applauds Assemblymember Rosenthal and State Senator Sepúlveda on their commonsense decision to shut down these dangerous incubators.”

Edita Birnkrant, Executive Director of NYCLASS said, “We cannot allow over 80 live-animal slaughter markets to continue operating within New York City neighborhoods while posing significant health hazards to residents, customers and workers, selling sick and diseased animals caged in filthy, inhumane conditions, all during the pandemic. NYCLASS applauds Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal and State Senator Luis Sepúlveda for this proactive legislation to protect the health of New Yorkers and we call for swift passage Bill A.10399.

Rachel McCrystal, Executive Director of Woodstock Farm Sanctuary says, “Woodstock Farm Sanctuary has rescued many animals from markets in New York City. They all need medical care when they arrive and have tested positive for parasitic and bacterial diseases. Animals at these markets are sick, stressed, and kept in cruel confinement. Woodstock Farm Sanctuary supports Bill A.10399.

Miriam Chisholm says, “NY Farm Animal Save fully supports Bill A.10399. We strongly believe, after documenting the live markets in NYC from 2013 – 2018, that the prospect of transmission of zoonotic diseases is very high. At our monthly vigils, we found very unsanitary conditions every single time. There was always feces, blood and feathers on the sidewalks, streets and inside the markets themselves, along with inches high feces collecting in the sliding shelf beneath the chicken cages. We also observed their cleaning to be spraying down the sidewalks and streets with water, thus making the feces, blood and feathers drain into the catch basins.” 

With hundreds of caged and penned animals, many of whom are visibly sick, urinating and defecating on each other and the floor, New York’s wet markets are a breeding ground for infectious disease,” said Donny Moss, a NYC-based filmmaker NYC-based filmmaker with TheirTurn.net who has documented conditions in several of NYC’s live animal markets. “If the state doesn’t shut these facilities down, the next zoonotic disease pandemic could just as easily originate in densely-populated New York City as it could in China.”

Jill Carnegie of Slaughter Free NYC says “Live animal markets are harmful for everyone – communities, workers, animals, and the environment. As the global epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, New York should be a leader by shutting down these disease vectors immediately. Slaughter Free NYC supports Bill A.10399.”

Jewish Veg said, “From a Jewish perspective, the State of New York should immediately and permanently ban animal “wet” markets. These markets blatantly violate two Jewish laws: 

  1. Tza’ar baalei chayim, which prohibits cruelty to animals. 
  2. Shimrat HaGuf, which mandates that we protect human health as the top priority. 

Just as these wet markets violate Jewish law, they should be outlawed by the State of New York as well — and for the same reasons, to prevent cruelty to animals and to protect human health.”

“Covid-19 might just be a preview of what is to come.  Breeding and housing animals in these cramped and filthy conditions obviously has consequences, and pandemics are apparently one of them. The next one might be far worse. It is high time we take action to protect our health and our future, and Rosenthal’s bill does just that.  Not to mention, the abhorrent animal cruelty that occurs in these places,” Nora Constance Marino, Esq. Attorney at Law, and Pres. of The Animal Cruelty Exposure Fund. 

Katerina Trabazo from Brooklyn-Queens Animal Save said, “As long as we continue to have markets selling live animals, killing them for food under these unsanitary conditions, people will continue to die alone in hospitals, businesses will be forced to close, while medical professionals risk their lives saving others.” 

“Live animal markets in New York City are a filthy breeding ground for disease and pose a significant risk to human health. We strongly encourage state lawmakers to support and swiftly pass Assemblymember Linda B Rosenthal and State Senator Luis Sepúlveda’s commonsense bill that aims to protect New York City’s 8.5 million residents by putting a permanent end to live markets in New York City immediately,” said Heather Greenhouse, Voters For Animal Rights.

“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. We cannot 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 on our state and country,” said Holly Cheever, DVM, New York State Humane Association, V.P., and Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, Leadership Council member.

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. In addition, it would require the creation of a task force to examine the safety of the markets and their effect on public health. The members of the task force, which would be appointed by the Governor, the New York State Assembly and Senate, would be required to possess competencies in infection disease, the spread of disease between animals and humans, agricultural practices, veterinary science and animal health and welfare.

Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal is the Chair of the Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. She represents the 67th Assembly district, which includes the Upper West Side and Hell’s Kitchen in the New York State Assembly.

SEPÚLVEDA BYLINE

New York State Agriculture and Markets Live Inspection Reports available upon request

Live Market Resources:

  • WHO information on avian influenza (see questions No. 7, 8, 9, 10, 12);
  • Blogpost with excellent quotes & scientific references on risks of live animal markets;
  • An HSUS Report: Human Health Implications of U.S. Live Bird Markets in the Spread of Avian Influenza Very detailed background info;
  • Wet markets—a continuing source of severe acute respiratory syndrome and influenza? See “Lessons from US live poultry markets.” Also has good background information;
  • Interventions in live poultry markets for the control of avian influenza: A systematic review This research review endorses permanent closure of live poultry markets to reduce the zoonotic risk of avian influenza;
  • Impact of live poultry market closure in reducing bird-to-human transmission of avian influenza A(H7N9) virus: an ecological study Research paper showing that closure of live poultry markets in China was effective in reducing human risk of influenza A;
  • Editorial in NY Times;
  • The Case Against Wet Markets from The Atlantic.