Doctors Urge Surgeon General To Shut Down U.S. Live Animal Markets


In a legal Petition for Rulemaking filed with the U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, MD, MPH, the Physicians Committee—a nonprofit of 12,000 doctors—demands that U.S. live animal markets be shut down immediately. The Petition for Rulemaking, filed on April 7, is signed by numerous physicians including Eric J. Brandt, MD, of Yale University School of Medicine, and Michelle L. O’Donoghue, MD, MPH, of Harvard Medical School.

“Live animal markets are a welcome mat to coronaviruses. The failure to close a single live animal market in China led to a pandemic that has closed countless businesses worldwide and led to an enormous death toll and economic havoc,” state the doctors.

The Petition for Rulemaking further states: “There must not be another pandemic.

To ‘prevent the introduction, transmission, and spread of communicable diseases’ in the United States, the Surgeon General must promulgate regulations that prohibit the sale, transfer, donation, other commercial or public offering, or transportation, in interstate or intrastate commerce, of live birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians to retail facilities that hold live animals intended for human consumption.”

Ducks crammed into small cages at a live animal market in Hanoi, Vietnam. Image credit Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals.

To underscore the need for government action, the Petition for Rulemaking highlights the unsanitary conditions at the J&B Poultry Market in Philadelphia. According to Philadelphia Magazine, the federal government filed a lawsuit against J&B Poultry Market alleging a long series of problems and violations. In 2015, inspectors from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health found unclean “plucking equipment,” cages “encrusted with fecal matter,” and “slaughtering equipment encrusted with bird feathers and bird waste.” J&B Poultry Market is now operating under the name Shun Li Live Poultry Market / S & L Poultry Market Inc.

Chinese authorities have taken modest steps to prevent the next pandemic, and the United States should act more decisively. According to Business Insider, the market where the current outbreak may have started, the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, has been closed, and Wuhan authorities have banned the trade of live animals at all wet markets there. China has announced a national ban on the buying, selling, and transportation of wild animals in markets, restaurants, and online marketplaces across the country. Farms that breed and transport wildlife to wet markets were also quarantined and closed.

Live animal markets are a breeding ground for organisms that may not cause disease in animal hosts but can be deadly to humans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “more than 6 out of every 10 known infectious diseases in people can be spread from animals, and 3 out of every 4 new or emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals.” Outbreaks cause death and, in the case of COVID-19, significant economic harm.

To build immunity, the Physicians Committee recommends healthful, plant-based meals as well as getting enough sleep and exercise. Studies show that affordable, plant-based options can help people prevent and even reverse diabetesheart disease, and high blood pressure, among other conditions.

Featured image: chickens in a live animal market in Hong Kong. Image credit Kim Bartlett – Animal People, Inc.

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Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research and medical training. Click to see author's profile.

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