Two bills pending in the state Legislature are aimed at suspending the permits of so-called live markets, where customers can select live animals and fowl that are then slaughtered for consumption, for up to one year while the state investigates their impact on public health safety.
In the case of kosher and halal establishments, the animals are killed and prepared under religious traditions and guidelines.
The bills, A.10399 sponsored by Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) and S.8291 sponsored by state Sen. Luis Sepulveda (D-Bronx), say the suspensions are an emergency measure geared to prevent threats to public health such as the COVID-19 virus.
Both bills state, “Experts throughout the world have concluded that the COVID-19 crisis is likely attributable to a live animal market ...” Rosenthal’s office acknowledged the Chronicle’s efforts to speak with her or get a statement, but provided neither prior to Wednesday’s publication deadline. A press release on her website said the aim of the bills is “to determine whether any amount of regulation can make the slaughterhouses safe enough to operate.”
“As policymakers, we have a responsibility to respond to this crisis by doing everything in our power to prevent the next pandemic,” she 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.” Sepulveda said there are about 80 such markets in the city, that they are poorly regulated and that they pose risks to workers and the general public.
The Chronicle visited two live markets on Jamaica Avenue in Queens Village this week, but the owners did not respond to requests for interviews or comments.
Edita Birnkrant, executive director of New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets, backs both bills. The Queens resident organized a protest in front of a live poultry establishment in Ridgewood on May 6, and said she approaches it from both public health and animal welfare directions.
“Neighbors have complained to us that they find blood, fecal matter and body parts on the sidewalk,” Birnkrant told the Chronicle in an interview. “And this is wedged into a residential neighborhood. The smell in the summer is terrible.”
She said animal refuge organizations with whom NYCLASS works have received animals from live markets that have tested positive for numerous diseases and bacteria; that the animals are kept in inhumane conditions; and that state documents obtained through freedom of information requests disclose numerous violations found at live markets through the state.
City Councilman Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) has many such markets in his district. He also is the only Muslim on the Council.
Miller, in a email, said public safety is and must remain the top priority, given how the coronavirus has changed the world in a brief time.
“In Southeast Queens, there are some live markets in densely populated areas, which is another consideration that a task force might need to consider should this legislation pass,” Miller said. “With that in mind, there is a balance that must be kept. Revoking the licenses of existing businesses for a one-year period would be detrimental to the communities that rely on them. Families throughout the state, and many in the outer boroughs, are dependent on these markets for food, including that which is certified as halal and kosher. We may consider a moratorium on granting new licenses until we’ve fully addressed health standards, but we should be working with existing markets instead of closing them.”