As NYC’s First Deputy Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot was delivering the opening remarks at a public health conference in Manhattan, over twenty animal rights and public health advocates disrupted the event until she forfeited her presentation and left the building. The protest was staged as part of an ongoing campaign to compel the NYC’s Department of Health (DOH) to enforce the multiple health codes violated during an annual religious animal sacrifice.
“Dr. Barbot and her boss, Commissioner Mary Bassett, routinely describe themselves as social justice advocates, yet they ignore an atrocity that they have the power to stop,” said Rachel Levy, an activist who has participated in many of the protests. “As far as the community is concerned, Dr. Barbot and all of the other deputy health commissioners are complicit in this illegal massacre of six week old animals.”
Before Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, certain sects of Orthodox Jews recite a prayer to transfer their sins to a live chicken. While reciting the prayer, practitioners of the ritual, which is called Kaporos, swing a chicken around their heads three times and then bring it to a shochet, or religious slaughterer, who slices her throat and bleeds her out into the street in an upside down traffic cone.
“These chickens know nothing but pain, neglect and deprivation during their six weeks of life on a factory farm, but their last few days are probably the worst, as they are intensively confined in crates on the streets of Brooklyn with no food or water,” said Roberto Bonelli from the animal rights group Animals Battalion.
In response to the protests and media inquiries, the DOH issued the following public statement about Kaporos: “We have not found Kaporos to be a significant public health threat — our surveillance has shown no increase in illness — and this ritual is an important practice for some Orthodox Jews.” The statement does not address the health code violations or a toxicology report commissioned by the affected communities which explicitly warns the city of the risks that Kaporos poses to the public.
“The city ignores the violations and aids and abets in the mass killing because the communities that partake in this ritual represent a powerful voting bloc,” said Donny Moss, a grass roots animal rights organizer in NYC. “Oxiris Barbot and Mary Bassett are putting politics ahead of public health, leaving activists no choice but to protest on behalf of the human and animal victims of their dereliction of duty.”