Editorial - Close the Live Food Markets

They no longer serve the original purpose when there was no refrigeration

American Tortoise Rescue (ATR), along with several other animal welfare groups, has been trying to close down the “wet” live food markets for the same reasons that the SARS epidemic closed the live markets in China.  There, as in the U.S., animals are kept in horrendous and unsanitary conditions before they are eaten…no shade, upside down, crowded beak to beak and claw to claw, with no food or water.  Some of these animals are threatened or endangered species. 

We cringe at the obvious mistreatment of these creatures.  Although several health department and private practice vets in Los Angeles and San Francisco have joined our efforts to shut the markets, this will need a more robust participation from the veterinary community as a whole.

Blood and feces tests and necropsies on these live animals, including rabbits, turtles, frogs, fish and evencoatimundi andraccoons, reveal salmonella, TB, leprosy and a range of other zoonotic diseases easily transmitted to humans.  ATR repeatedly has brought hard evidence since 1995 to a variety of local, state and federal agencies to no avail. 

California Fish & Wildlife, USDA, Los Angeles County and California Health Depts. among others have deliberately stayed away from this political hot potato because closing them would mean angering Chinese voters.  The USDA official I spoke to said, “Lady.  We don’t inspect fish.  Why would we inspect turtles?”

The argument used by the vendors and buyers is that live markets are a Chinese tradition (o.k. before refrigeration in China and elsewhere, live food markets made sense, but that excuse no longer holds water). "Culture" and "tradition" justify nothing.  To quote a good friend of mine, Action for Animal’s Eric Mills, "There's a lot of crime done against animals in the name of diversity."  Should we defend human slavery or female genital mutilation on the same grounds of tradition and culture?  They've been around for a long time, too.  

Our reason for closing the live markets is two-fold – to prevent Chinese and other shoppers from getting sick with serious and sometimes fatal symptoms resembling the flu, and to prevent the inhumane treatment of helpless animals.  Overlooking these logical reasons for our concern, we have been labeled racists throughout California and elsewhere.  It is not surprising that when there is no legitimate defense, pulling the race card is always an easy trump. 

We call on government officials to close live markets here in the states.  Please help us in our efforts – contact your congressman or senators via email and ask that live markets in your city and others be closed immediately based on the outright cruelty to animals.  Further, we ask that you inform your veterinary associations, as members in good standing, to consider this a critical issue that must be addressed now.  Thank you.

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Founded by Susan Tellem and husband Marshall Thompson, American Tortoise Rescue is a national organization based in Malibu, Calif. since 1990 for the rescue, rehabilitation, protection and adoption of turtles and tortoises of all species.  www.tortoise.com

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About Us

American Tortoise Rescue is a nonprofit founded in 1990 for the protection of all species of turtles and tortoises. We have rescued more than 3,000 since our inception. Foundlings that cannot be adopted because of ill health remain in the care of ATR for the remainder of their lives. ATR acts as a clearinghouse for information about turtle care. We work to abolish “live market” slaughter of turtles in the US, the cruel importation and exploitation of a variety of species and protecting the desert tortoise.

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Quick facts

Live food markets where animals are sold for food exist throughout the US
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Necropsies on turtles and frogs reveal salmonella, TB, leprosy and a range of other zoonotic diseases easily transmitted to humans
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animals are kept in horrendous and unsanitary conditions before they are sold.
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