Running pair (copy)

Guinea fowl are among the birds that are often sold at New York City live bird markets.

A New York City residents group wants the city’s live poultry markets to be suspended after an avian influenza outbreak at one business.

New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets said 38 markets linked to the infected shop in Queens were allowed to sell down their bird inventory.

This leeway let potentially infected fowl be sent into the community before the markets shut down temporarily for cleaning and disinfecting, the group said.

Edita Birnkrant, executive director of NYCLASS, said live animal markets are breeding grounds for disease, and the city and state should take action.

“Why are dozens of these markets operating in densely populated areas with animal blood, guts and waste within feet of children going to school and adults going to work?” Birnkrant said.

Without giving an exact number, a spokeswoman from the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets confirmed that the state identified high priority poultry markets in the area around the affected business, and told them to sell down their birds on an expedited timeline.

The nearby markets were instructed to contact the department and stop sales if they observed any sick birds. The infected market did not sell down its birds, but had them depopulated following USDA protocols, the spokeswoman said.

The detection at the Queens market remains an isolated incident, she said.

Some 170 birds were at the New York market where chickens, ducks and guineas tested positive. USDA confirmed avian influenza in samples from the site Nov. 12.

New York’s live bird markets once had problems controlling avian influenza, but outbreaks have become rare over the past 20 years thanks to increased regulation, according to Jarra Jagne, a Cornell University poultry scientist.

That didn’t prevent Irma Labiosa, parent of a New York public school student, from recalling that the COVID-19 pandemic is thought to have started in a live animal market.

“This kind of place with these health risks would not be located on the Upper East Side, so why do our kids have to deal with it in East Williamsburg?” Labiosa said in an NYCLASS press release.

The locations of the markets likely are influenced by the concentrations of people of diverse ethnic groups who like shopping at the businesses.

New York’s live bird markets move half a million birds per week, including Silkies, spent layers and other types of fowl not commonly found at grocery stores, Jagne said.

The Northeast and California are the only parts of the United States with a significant number of live bird markets, she said.

COVID-19 is thought to have started in a Chinese wet market — a place where vendors sell a variety of fresh produce, meat and seafood. Some wet markets offer live animals for food, but they are otherwise similar to farmers markets in the United States, according to National Geographic and CNN.

Unlike an American farmers market, though, the market in Wuhan, China, scrutinized for COVID-19 transmission reportedly had a section offering wild animals for food.

The World Health Organization recommended last year that countries stop food markets from selling live wild mammals because they are the leading source of emerging infectious diseases in humans.

The recommendation did not cover farmed mammals or poultry, which are subject to animal health regulations and monitoring that are not possible with wild-caught animals.

In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed influenza and emerging coronaviruses among the U.S.’ eight diseases of greatest concern that could spread from animals to people.

The CDC also says that the current avian influenza outbreak does not pose an immediate risk to human health.

Highly pathogenic avian influenza made the leap from animals to humans in 1997.

Since 2003, 800 people have been infected worldwide, and more than 400 have died. These rare cases were associated with home slaughter and processing of chickens, Jagne said.

“The difference between this virus and the coronavirus is that (avian influenza) has not found a way to spread from human to human. That is why the CDC is not considering it a threat,” Jagne said.

Only one American exposed to infected birds has tested positive for avian flu this year — a depopulation worker from Colorado in April, according to the CDC.

New York’s live bird markets are required to slaughter birds before customers take them home.

In addition, farms that produce for live bird markets must participate in regular avian influenza surveillance testing, and birds can only go to market if they test negative for avian influenza within 10 days before movement.

Markets are required to keep records of all birds received and sold, are subject to unannounced inspections, and are expected to sell off their poultry and disinfect the building at least once a quarter.

These rules, part of a 2003 regulatory clampdown, have dramatically lowered the incidence of avian influenza at the New York markets, Jagne said.

Some 48 markets tested positive the year the reforms went into place, but no cases were detected in seven of the 10 years during the 2010s, data from the Department of Agriculture and Markets show.

The live market in Queens is hardly alone in being infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza this year.

Over 600 flocks have been infected in 46 states — the largest outbreak in U.S. history. Broilers, layers, turkeys, game birds and backyard flocks are among the sectors affected.

“We do not know yet where the current virus in the markets came from, but it was just a matter of time based on the numbers we have seen in the current 2022 outbreak,” Jagne said.

NYCLASS also questioned New York's decision to cancel poultry competitions at this summer’s fairs while allowing the live poultry businesses to continue.

A livestock auction in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, was paused for a few hours in June after regulators discovered a backyard producer had brought chickens from a control area near an infected farm without obtaining a movement permit.

State officials allowed the sale to continue after the birds at auction tested negative for avian influenza.

In addition to fighting live bird markets, NYCLASS has supported city laws that protect carriage horses and ban the sale of foie gras, which is liver from force-fed poultry.

This story has been expanded since its initial posting.


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