Bill would shut down all live animal markets in New York

Photo courtesy of the World Health Organization

New York state Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, D-Manhattan and State Senator Luis Sepúlveda announced new legislation today, A.10399, that would shut down New York’s live animal markets to help prevent the spread of zoonotic diseases.

The legislation would create The Task Force on Slaughterhouse Public Health and Safety and Animal Welfare, a task force made up of experts in epidemiology, veterinary science, and animal welfare to determine if regulation will make the slaughterhouses safe enough to operate.

In New York City alone there are more than 80 live markets where animals such as chickens, ducks, hens, rabbits and even cows are slaughtered on site and readily made available to sell as food. 

The majority of live animal markets operate in close proximity to schools, playgrounds and even peoples’ homes, despite a state public health law prohibiting new slaughterhouses from operating within 1,500 feet of a residential building.

With the growing scientific consensus that COVID-19, as well as other zoonotic diseases that came before it like SARS and H1N1, originated in live animal markets, policymakers find that it is their responsibility to close these markets. 

“In a matter of weeks, COVID-19 has ravaged New York and changed life for millions of New Yorkers,” Rosenthal said. “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.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, zoonotic diseases are quite common worldwide and scientists estimate that three out of every four new or emerging diseases in people come from animals. These diseases can spread to humans who have come into contact with infected animals, their fluids or surfaces that animals have touched. 

“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, a neurologist and public health specialist who is also chief executive officer for the Center for Contemporary Sciences.

When COVID-19 cases began in early March, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Market suspended all market inspections. On top of that, slaughterhouses haven’t been inspected in eight weeks.

Animal rights advocates have filmed the unsanitary conditions that these animals are forced to live in. This creates an environment that is ripe for the transmission of diseases. Reports and videos, for example, show that chicken cages are stacked up on top of each other allowing the chickens to urinate and defecate on the animals below them.  

Rachel McCrystal, executive director of Woodstock Farm Sanctuary said, “[We] have 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.”

The bill would go into effect immediately and require the Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets to suspend the licenses of all existing live animal markets, as well as halt the issuing of new licenses. 

The task force, which would be appointed by the governor, the New York State Assembly and the Senate, would be required to examine the safety of these markets and possess competencies in infection disease, the spread of disease between animals and humans, agricultural practices, veterinary science and animal health and welfare.