Viewpoint: It’s time for state to close live animal markets

As world leaders continue to debate the closure of wild animal wet markets across the globe, New York can act right now to stem the spread of zoonotic diseases caused by the exploitation of animals by closing such markets in the state.

Live animal markets have for too long cruelly consumed millions of wild animals and endangered the planet’s health. Experts have said the COVID-19 pandemic likely arose from a wet market in China.

COVID-19 is not the only deadly disease to emerge from such markets across the globe. SARS, MERS, Ebola, Nipah virus and many others have jumped from animals to humans because of the wildlife trade.

In fact, three out of every four new or emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals and more than 34 million people worldwide have died from zoonotic diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization.

New York state is home to more than 80 live animal markets, including in Schenectady, Buffalo and New York City, the latter of which hosts the majority of them and where more than 21,600 people so far have died from COVID-19. Smuggled illegal bush meat from imported exotics such as monkeys, pythons and civets can make their way into such markets to be sold to consumers.

Many of these markets operate next door to schools and homes despite health laws prohibiting slaughterhouses near residential buildings, according to Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal and state Sen. Luis Sepulveda, who have introduced a bill (A.10399) to shut them. The markets are not regulated by the USDA, but by state agencies, which have weaker oversight rules and a small staff of inspectors who struggle to keep up with the quarterly inspections mandated by state law.

It would be shameful if state lawmakers failed to act on a bill at the center of the crisis, one that will save lives, end exploitation and suffering of humans and animals and help prevent future pandemics.

Priscilla Feral is president of Friends of Animals.

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