NEW YORK—In an effort to control the spread of infectious diseases, live animal markets might soon be banned in New York. A new bill, introduced by Assembly Member Linda B. Rosenthal (D-Manhattan), would immediately prohibit the operation of live animal markets in New York, effectively suspending current live markets’ operations and preventing further licenses for such markets from being issued.
“In a matter of weeks, COVID-19 has ravaged New York and changed life for millions of New Yorkers,” says Assembly Member 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.”
Doctors with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine—a nonprofit of more than 12,000 doctors—applaud the legislation for promoting public health and aiming to prevent the spread of future viruses.
COVID-19 appears to have originated in bats and passed to humans via live animal markets. Previously, other coronavirus outbreaks have also spread through animals sold in live markets. The severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic of 2002–2003 originated in horseshoe bats, passing through civets sold for meat to humans.
The legislation could also help stop the spread of new strains of influenza A, an avian virus. Beginning with the 1918 H1N1 flu pandemic (if not before), all influenza A outbreaks have come originally from bird viruses that have found their way into domesticated animal populations and, from there, into farmworkers, their contacts, and the broader community. The H1N1 virus killed millions of people.
“Avoiding future pandemics like the COVID-19 global crisis requires a total ban on live markets, including the 80 in New York City alone,” says Neal Barnard, MD, FACC, president of the Physicians Committee. “Poultry flocks are breeding grounds for influenza A viruses, and live animal markets are the source of coronavirus.”
New York City has the greatest number of live bird markets, compared with other U.S. cities, according to the New York State Consumer Protection Board. Inspection reports from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets show ongoing health, safety, and welfare problems in New York’s live animal markets.
The bill would also create a seven-person task force who would conduct examinations of the shutdown markets for potential public health risks. The members would have expertise in infectious diseases, with a focus on the potential spread of disease between animals and humans. They would report their findings within a year of its first meeting and include a recommendation for further action.
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in education and research.