NYC Health Commissioner Says She Will Continue to Allow Orthodox Jewish Animal Sacrifice Despite Health Code Violations, Reports of E. coli, and Current Measles Outbreak in Same Community
During a public health forum held at the City University of New York on April 1st, 2019, NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot stated that she would continue to allow a mass animal sacrifice that takes place in Hasidic Jewish communities before Yom Kippur. Dr. Barbot delivered the remarks in response to an audience member who asked if the Department of Health would begin to enforce the health codes violated during the sacrifice, called Kaporos, in light of the reports of E. coli infection and a measles outbreak in the same community.
“In our work addressing public health issues in a number of different communities, we take an approach that matches the intervention to the degree that people are getting sick,” said Dr. Barbot. “I don’t see us making any change in our current practice in that area.”
Advocates say that Dr. Barbot’s response, which did not acknowledge the health code violations or the reports of E. coli, affirmed their fears that the Health Department will continue to wait for a disease outbreak to occur before enforcing the seven health codes that are violated.
In response to Dr. Barbot’s remarks and her announcement that the City was declaring a public health emergency due to the measles outbreak, numerous public health and animal welfare advocates staged an impromptu rally at City Hall to draw attention to the City’s ongoing refusal to take measures to prevent the outbreak of another potentially lethal disease in the same community – an outbreak that would likely spread outside of the Hasidic communities where the public slaughter takes place. ABC News reported on the advocates’ rally as part of its coverage of the measles outbreak. Following is an excerpt:
For the past 1.5 years, public health and animal welfare advocates have protested Dr. Barbot and other city health officials over their refusal to enforce the multiple health codes violated during Kaporos. During the ritual, an estimated 60,000 chickens are trucked into Brooklyn, held outdoors in crates for up to a week and killed in approximately 30 open air slaughterhouses erected without permits on residential streets. The blood, feces and body parts of the chickens contaminate the sidewalks and streets during the ritual and in the days that follow, exposing New Yorkers to E. coli, coliform and other pathogens and toxins, according to a renowned toxicologist who collected samples on behalf of area residents suing the DOH and NYPD over their failure to enforce the health codes.
In his report, the toxicologist, Dr. Michael McCabe, concluded, “The first-hand observations that I made during my September 21st 2015 Kaporos inspection as well as the photographs that I took and test results confirming high bacterial contamination and unsanitary conditions confirm and strengthen my opinion that within a reasonable degree of professional certainty the Kaporos activities taking place in the subject locations constitute a dangerous condition and pose a significant public health hazard.”
“Mayor de Blasio instructs the Department of Health to defend Kaporos and the health code violations because the Hasidic practitioners of the ritual comprise a powerful voting bloc,” said Donny Moss, an organizer of the Kaporos protests. “But the gravity of the current measles outbreak begs the question — Is the de Blasio administration going to wait for the outbreak of another disease in the Hasidic community before it enforces the City’s own health codes?”
During the past two years, several non-Orthodox people who were exposed to the chickens contracted E. coli. Two of them spoke out during a press conference at City Hall.
Advocates speculate that many Kaporos practitioners also become sick each year due to their exposure to sick and dying chickens, but do not report it.
“Apart from the extraordinary risk at which the Mayor and Health Commissioner are placing New York’s residents, the City faces enormous liability should someone become sick or even die as a result of Kaporos,” said Bonnie Klapper, an attorney advising the advocates. “The financial cost, which would be borne by all New Yorkers in the advent of a money judgement, should certainly compel the City to enforce its own health laws.”