On May 1st, dozens of conservationists and animal rights activists staged a rally in Times Square to help members of the public connect the dots between eating animals and pandemics. Their message was simple: “Eating Animals Causes Pandemics.” The New York City rally was one of approximately 60 that took place in 20 countries around the world in support of International Pandemic Outreach Day.
The Eating Animals Causes Pandemics campaign is a collaboration among animal rights, environmental, conservation and religious organizations. It emerged as a result of the outbreak of COVID-19, which is believed to have jumped to humans in a live animal market in China. Like many of the pandemics that preceded it, including the catastrophic Spanish Flu of 1918, COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease — one that is transmitted to humans from a non-human animal.
On International Pandemic Outreach Day, advocates in New York City spoke to hundreds of pedestrians whose attention they captured with their hazmat suits and posters. Most were not aware that outbreaks of avian flu, swine flu and a human version of mad cow disease are caused by our consumption of chickens, pigs and cows.
Factory farms are a breeding ground for infectious diseases, which could easily spread among the animals and, if zoonotic, to humans
The COVID-19 pandemic shined a global spotlight on the infectious disease risks associated with live animal markets, but zoonotic diseases can – and do – emerge in factory farms, slaughterhouses and any other setting where animals are intensively confined and/or slaughtered for human consumption. Dr. Michael Gregor, the author of Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching (2016) has said, “If you actually want to create pandemics, then build factory farms.”
Conservationists and animal rights activists staged a rally in Times Square to raise awareness about the connection between eating animals and pandemics
As COVID-19 blazed a trail of sickness and death through Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community during the summer of 2020, animal rights activists in NYC thought that the Department of Health (DOH) would cancel the annual Kaporos chicken slaughter events, which were scheduled to take place from September 20 – 27. The DOH knew that these large, crowded, semi-enclosed gatherings could be super-spreader events and that the participants would not be wearing masks. The DOH also knew that Kaporos could put the public at risk of another zoonotic disease outbreak, as ritual practitioners physically handle live animals in the makeshift wet markets. In spite of these risks and the fact that seven health codes are violated during Kaporos, the City allowed the annual slaughter to take place.
During Kaporos, an estimated 100,000 chickens are trucked into Brooklyn; held in crates on the street for up to a week; and swung in the air by practitioners before being killed in approximately 30 open air slaughterhouses erected on residential streets. The blood, feces and body parts of the chickens contaminate the sidewalks and streets for several days, exposing New Yorkers to E. coli, campylobacter and other pathogens and toxins, according to a renowned toxicologist hired by area residents who sued the DOH and NYPD over their failure to enforce the City’s health laws.
Public health and animal rights activists have been sounding the alarm about the risks to public health posed by the Kaporos. If a zoonotic disease spilled over into humans at a Kaporos wet market, it could spread like wildfire in densely populated NYC before health officials even detected it.
In early September, when the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos came to the realization that Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi and Deputy Commissioner of Disease Control Demetre Daskalakis would be allowing Kaporos to take place, Jill Carnegie, the organization’s field director, began working with fellow rescue organizers to ramp up placement efforts for the chickens. They found homes for 275, but she knew from previous years that additional sanctuaries and homes would volunteer to take many more once the rescues began.
In the days leading up to Yom Kippur, hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews around the world engage in a ritual animal sacrifice called Kaporos.
During Kaporos, the all-volunteer rescue operation begins as soon as the chickens are unloaded from the flatbed trucks that transport them to Brooklyn from the factory farms in New Jersey and Pennsylvania where they are fattened for the first five weeks of their lives. Armed with the crates and blankets, Carnegie and other rescuers search the streets of Brooklyn’s Hasidic neighborhoods for chickens; rescue the ones who are unattended; and whisk them away to a triage center where chicken care experts from Tamerlaine Sanctuary provide them with nourishment and first aid as they determine whether or not they need more advanced veterinary care. According to Carnegie, rescuers transported 30 chickens to the vet, 15 of whom had wings or toes amputated.
Kaporos chickens in transit from a triage center in Brooklyn to Tamerlaine Sanctuary in NJ. Some of the chickens require surgery for broken wings and toes.
After seven days of rescues, Carnegie and her fellow rescuers ended up with 510 chickens, who they treated and transported to dozens of sanctuaries and homes around the country — from Maine to Arizona.
In 2019, TheirTurn documented the rescue operation:
In the weeks after Kaporos ended, COVID infections spiked in most of the neighborhoods where Kaporos took place. The city designated these areas as red zones and shut down the schools and non-essential businesses. Activists were left wondering how many lives – human and nonhuman – could have been spared if Dr. Chokshi and Dr. Daskalakis stopped Kaporos from happening.
The chickens used in the Kaporos ritual are slaughtered when they are five or six weeks old. Most appear to be fully grown because farmers feed them hormones and antibiotics to make the grow quickly, but this rescue looked her age.
When businesses around the country began shutting down in the Spring, Mercy for Animals (MFA), a national animal rights group, launched Plants to the People, an initiative to help vegan restaurants stay afloat during the pandemic. As part of the initiative, MFA paid 10 vegan restaurants and chefs in the Newark, New Jersey area to prepare their plant-based specialties for Bridges Outreach, an organization that delivers 65,000 meals a week to people in need. When MFA volunteer Peter Ortiz contacted Bridges Outreach to propose a vegan Thanksgiving for its clients, the organization jumped at the chance – and Ortiz jumped into action.
Mercy For Animals partners with Bridges Outreach, a Newark-based non-profit that serves the homeless, to serve a vegan ThanksLiving feast (photo: Rachel Alban)
Ortiz asked five of the restaurants that participated in Plants to the People to prepare food for the ThanksLiving event, which was held outdoors due to the pandemic. Not only did the restaurants donate the food, but they also served it up in person — with the help of volunteers from Mercy for Animals, Hip Hop is Green New Jersey, Newark Animal Save and Jersey Shore Food Not Bombs.
With the help of five local restaurants and four animal rights groups, Bridges Outreach in Newark hosts its first vegan ThanksLiving (photos: Rachel Alban)
“We are excited and honored to be working with Bridges Outreach to produce its first vegan ThanksLiving celebration,” said Peter Ortiz, on behalf of the volunteer organizations. “We are also thankful to the restaurants that generously donated food at a time when they too are struggling due to the pandemic.”
Animal rights activists and vegan chefs volunteer at Bridges Outreach ThanksLiving celebration. From left to right: Dhruva LaTorre, Peter Ortiz, Andy Hertz, Annabel Lainchbury, Oscar Malave (photo: Rachel Alban)
The ThanksLiving event went off without a hitch on Tuesday, November 24th, outside of the Bridges Outreach headquarters in Newark. Approximately 200 people were fed throughout the day. One of the guests was so grateful to the volunteers that he broke out into dance.
Richard Uniacke, the Executive Director of Bridges Outreach, expressed his gratitude to the organizations and restaurants that made ThanksLiving possible.
The participating restaurants were Blueberry Cafe’ Juice Bar & Vegan Grille in Newark; How Delish HDin West Orange;More Life Cafe “A Vegan Spot” in Jersey City; Plant Base in Jersey City; and Vegans of Seitan in Linden. Among the many menu items were curry jackfruit, lentil & squash soup, Mac n’ Cheese, collard greens, apple cobbler, chili and rice (donated by Food Not Bombs), and cupcakes (donated by Jam Cakery).
Vegan desserts at Bridges Outreach vegan ThanksLiving (photo: Rachel Alban)
Weeks before the City shut down Brooklyn’s Hasidic neighborhoods due to a surge in COVID cases, animal rights and public health advocates flooded city officials and journalists with letters warning them of the spike if Mayor and Dept. of Health allowed large, crowded, semi-enclosed, mask-free Kaporos slaughter events to take place. They ignored the warnings, and the number of COVID cases jumped dramatically in these neighborhoods in the weeks that followed. In the extensive media coverage about the surge, neither elected officials nor journalists are addressing the fact that it was caused, at least in part, by the Kaporos wet markets.
Advocates warned the governor, mayor, city health officials and media that Kaporos events in COVID hot spots would lead to a surge in cases
The surge of COVID cases left New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, staunch allies of the Hasidic community, with no choice but to designate some of their neighborhoods as “red zones” and publicly state they were instituting partial shut downs. In spite of the fact that COVID safety guidelines had not been enforced in their communities before, they took to the streets of Borough Park, Brooklyn, to protest. Many of the protesters burned their masks in a show of defiance.
“The Hasidim will not change their behavior due to the pandemic unless they want to because, in New York, their actions don’t have consequences,” said Donny Moss of TheirTurn.net, an animal rights news magazine that documents Kaporos events each year. “Because of their voting power, elected officials move mountains to curry favor with them, even if that means helping them break the law and jeopardize the public health.”
Kaporos, a ritual animal sacrifice that takes place in the week leading up to Yom Kippur, is a perfect example. Each year before Yom Kippur, the Hasidim in Brooklyn erect approximately 30 makeshift slaughterhouses without permits on public streets and kill over 100,000 chickens (a conservative estimate) in violation of 15 city and state health and cruelty laws. Invariably, Kaporos practitioners and advocates who rescue chickens contract e. Coli and campylobacter. Nevertheless, the city provides the Hasidic community with police officers, floodlights, barricades and traffic cones which are used to bleed the animals out onto the streets.
In 2020, the animal rights community thought that Kaporos would be canceled for two reasons. First, elected officials and health authorities knew in advance that social distancing and mask wearing guidelines would not be practiced during Kaporos events, which, incidentally, would be taking place in areas already designated as Kaporos hot spots. Second, the Kaporos sites are wet markets where tens of thousands of customers physically handle the live animals before they are slaughtered. In light of the fact that COVID19 is a zoonotic disease that is widely believed to have jumped from animal to human in a wet market, the advocacy community thought that the City would cancel Kaporos to prevent the potential outbreak of another zoonotic disease.
In the weeks leading up to Yom Kippur, the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos plastered hundreds of posters throughout NYC sounding the alarm about the health risks posed by Kaporos.
To the dismay of the advocates, the COVID pandemic, the risk of another zoonotic disease outbreak, and the health and cruelty violations didn’t compel the City to stop Kaporos from happening.
“One day, however, the victims of Kaporos will fight back in the only way they can – by unleashing a zoonotic disease on us that will rapidly spread through the Hasidic communities and lead to another global pandemic,” said Moss.
Before Yom Kippur, hundreds of thousands of Hasidim in the NYC tri-state area practice Kaporos, a ritual animal sacrifice (photo: Unparalleled Suffering Photography)
Animal rights and public health advocates have pledged to continue to educate the public about the health and cruelty violations and to hold past and present NYC health officials like Drs. Mary Bassett, Demetre Daskalakis, Oxiris Barbot and Dave Chokshi accountable for their decision to prioritize politics ahead of public health.
In the days leading up to Yom Kippur, tens of thousands of Hasidim in Brooklyn will purchase and physically handle live chickens in a wet market setting. Wearing little to no PPE, they will swing the chickens around their heads as part of an annual atonement ritual called Kaporos. The chickens will be killed in approximately 30 makeshift slaughterhouses erected without permits on public streets in residential neighborhoods in violation of eight New York City health codes. The body parts, blood and feces of thousands of animals will contaminate the streets of South Williamsburg, Crown Heights and Borough Park for several days.
Kaporos is, in effect, the largest live animal wet market in the country and the only one in which the customers handle the animals before the animals are killed. Many of the animals have compromised immune systems and show signs of respiratory disease. The chickens make each other sick, and they also infect some of the people who handle them with e. Coli and campylobacter. If the viruses that these animals carry commingle and mutate into a more dangerous strain that could be spread among humans, then these Kaporos wet markets could be the source of the another zoonotic disease outbreak. According to a toxicologist who studied fecal and blood samples taken during Kaporos, the ritual “constitutes a dangerous condition” and “poses a significant public health hazard.”
During Kaporos, tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews purchase and physically handle live animals, without PPE, putting themselves and the public at risk of zoonotic disease
In addition to putting all of us at risk of another zoonotic disease pandemic, Kaporos, which attracts hordes of people in small areas, could be a COVID “super spreader” event because Hasidic communities have been observed not wearing masks or engaging in social distancing.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio; his Health Commissioner, Dr. Dave Chokshi; and his Deputy Commissioner of Disease Control, Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, allow this mass ritual slaughter to take place, in spite of the health code violations and risks to public health, because NYC’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities represent a powerful voting bloc that can make or break elections in NYC and NY State. In fact, taxpayers help to underwrite the cost because the NYPD provides barricades, floodlights and a large police presence at many of the Kaporos sites. Given the risks and the disruption and death we have already endured already with pandemic, how can the Mayor and his health deputies allow Kaporos to take place?
The Kaporos wet market contaminates the public streets and sidewalks of several NYC neighborhoods with the blood, feces and body parts of thousands of animals killed in pop up slaughterhouses erected without permits in violation of 8 NYC health laws
During Kaporos, some of the live and dead chickens are discarded onto the streets. Rescuers bring the survivors who they find to veterinarians and sanctuaries to live out their lives in peace
For the past several years, animal rights and public health advocates have pled with Mayor de Blasio and his revolving door of health commissioners (Dr. Mary Bassett, Dr. Oxiris Barbot and now Dr. Dave Chokshi) to shut down Kaporos, given the health code violations and the risks to the public health. Both in court and in the media, city attorneys and spokespeople for the NYC Department of Health have defended Kaporos and argued that the City has discretion over which laws to enforce. Throughout the month of September, the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos plastered 300 posters around New York City to sound the alarm about Kaporos.
The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos, a project of United Poultry Concerns, plastered billboards around NYC to educate the public about the risk to public health created by Kaporos