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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

April 11, 2019 by Leave a Comment

The News

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.

During Kaporos, the blood, feces and body parts of thousands of chickens contaminate the streets of the same Hasidic Jewish neighborhoods that are now experiencing a measles outbreak. The Kaporos ritual violates 7 city health codes.

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 spite of the toxicology report outlining the public health risks associated with Kaporos, ultra-Orthodox Jewish children work in makeshift slaughterhouses erected for the annual ritual sacrifice without any protection against disease.

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’s Health Commissioner, Dr. Oxiris Barbot, has refused to address or acknowledge the toxicology report that outlines the public health risks posed by the mass slaughter of 60,000 animals on residential streets during Kaporos.

“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.” 

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Advocates Rally at City Hall in New York to Demand End to Illegal Mass Animal Sacrifice

December 4, 2018 by Leave a Comment

The News

Public health and animal rights advocates in NYC staged a rally at City Hall on November 27th to demand that the NYPD and Department of Health enforce the 15 laws that are broken each year during Kaporos, a ritual sacrifice of 60,000 chickens that takes place before Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement.

“Mayor de Blasio instructs his health commissioner to defend the health code violations and his police commissioner to aid and abet in the crimes because he wants to maintain favor with the powerful Orthodox voting bloc that commits them,” said Jessica Hollander, an organizer in the grass roots effort to stop the illegal slaughter. “If any other group were breaking laws, the NYPD would be arresting, not assisting, them.”

Nora Constance Marino, an attorney who has represented The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos in litigation against the City, told demonstrators at the rally that the legal battle will continue, in spite of a setback at the NY State Court of Appeals in which six judges ruled that they did not have the power to compel city agencies to enforce their own laws.

During Kaporos, which takes place over the course of several days, ultra-Orthodox communities truck thousands of crates of chickens into the city and kill them in approximately 30 makeshift slaughterhouses that they erect on public streets without permits.

Practitioners of Kaporos erect approximately 30 makeshift slaughterhouses on public streets without permits. (Unparalleled Suffering Photography)

“If I wanted to host a block party, I would need to need to fill out an application and get approval from multiple city agencies. It’s a rigorous process” said Jill Carnegie, the Campaigns Director with the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos. “Yet Kaporos practitioners can, without a permit, build illegal slaughterhouses and kill tens of thousands of animals on residential streets with the financial and logistical support of the NYPD.”

Advocates argue that the city is aiding and abetting in the crimes by not only dispatching a massive number of police officers but also providing Kaporos practitioners with barricades to cordon off public streets, floodlights and traffic cones in which the chickens are bled out into the streets.

In 2015, residents in the neighborhoods contaminated by the blood and body parts of chickens killed during Kaporos hired a toxicologist to investigate the impact of the waste on their health. In his report, Dr. Michael McCabe concluded that Kaporos “constitutes a dangerous condition and poses a significant public health hazard.” Advocates have, on multiple occasions, sent the toxicology report to Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, the head of Infectious Disease Control at the NYC Department of Health, and to Drs. Oxiris Barbot and Mary Bassett, the City’s current and former health commissioners, but they have refused to acknowledge it.  Advocates speculate that acknowledging the risks outlined in this “damning” report would put them in a position to have to take action to prevent a potential disease outbreak.

Mayor de Blasio’s Health Commissioners have refused to address a toxicology report that outlines the risk posed by the mass slaughter of 60,000 animals on public streets during Kaporos.

“I got violently sick. I had very bad E. coli for weeks,” said Kurt Andernach, the Director of And-Hof Animal Sanctuary who took in some of the chickens rescued during Kaporos. “When you have high concentrations of sick birds, it’s just a matter of time before something catastrophic happens.”

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Video Exposes Multiple Health Code Violations During Illegal Mass Animal Sacrifice in Brooklyn

November 26, 2018 by Leave a Comment

The News

Every year during the week leading up to Yom Kippur, several sects of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn sacrifice an estimated 60,000 chickens in makeshift slaughterhouses that are erected without permits on public streets.  The practitioners of the ritual slaughter, called Kaporos, violate multiple city health codes:

The NYC Department of Health defends the illegal sacrifice, arguing that the city has not observed any “disease signals” associated with the practice. The NYPD, which is charged with enforcing the laws, instead aids and abets in the crimes.

A toxicology report confirmed that Kaporos poses a “significant public health hazard.”

“The Chief of Police and Health Commissioner are political appointees, and their boss, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, has clearly instructed them to assist in the illegal Kaporos massacre because the practitioners represent a powerful voting bloc,” said Donny Moss, an organizer in the effort to compel the city to enforce the laws. “Not only does the City provides police barricades, floodlights and an army of police officers and sanitation workers, but it also provides the traffic cones where tens of thousands of chickens are bled out into public streets.”

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio instructs the NYPD to aid and abet in the illegal slaughter of an estimated 60,000 animals on the streets of NYC (Unparalleled Suffering Photography)

On October 17th, during oral arguments about Kaporos in the the New York State Court of Appeals, a city attorney confirmed that laws are broken but argued that the city has discretion over which laws to enforce.

City health codes that are violated during Kaporos

During Kaporos, an estimated 60,000 six-week old chickens are intensively confined in crates without food or water for up to several days before being slaughtered and discarded. Many die of starvation, thirst and exposure before the ritual takes place. A toxicology reported commissioned by residents in the neighborhoods that are contaminated with the blood, feces and body parts of chickens states that the ritual a “significant public health hazard.”

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De Blasio Administration Uses Tax Dollars to Aid and Abet in Crimes Against Animals – and Defends it in Court

October 29, 2018 by Leave a Comment

The News

On October 17th, in New York State’s highest court, lawyers for New York City Mayor Bill Blasio’s administration defended the City’s decision to ignore animal cruelty violations and to assist in crimes being committed against animals.

The case in front of the Court of Appeals centers around Kaporos, a ritual animal sacrifice during which ultra-Orthodox Jews swing an estimated 60,000 six-week old chickens around their heads, slice their throats in open-air slaughterhouses erected without permits, and dispose of them in garbage bags, sometimes while they’re still alive. In 2017 and 2018, thousands of chickens held in crates on the street died of hunger, thirst, disease and heat exhaustion before the ritual even began.

In 2015, an advocacy group called the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos and 19 NYC residents who live in neighborhoods that are contaminated by the mass slaughter sued the City of New York, the NYC Department of Health and the NYPD for failing to enforce the 15 public health, sanitation and anti-cruelty laws and regulations that are violated during Kaporos. Nora Constance Marino, the attorney for the plaintiffs, has been asking the judicial branch of government to issue a “Writ of Mandamus,” which would compel city agencies to enforce the laws.

During the arguments, the city’s attorney, Elina Druker, did not deny that the animal cruelty laws or health codes are violated; she merely argued that city agencies, not judges, have discretion over which laws they enforce. She also argued that the city should decide how to allocate its resources. Marino responded, “This is a farce. The resources are [already deployed] there. There’s police everywhere during this event, facilitating the event, assisting the event, aiding and abetting the event.” Marino continued, “crimes are being committed, and the public health is being put at risk here.”

After the oral arguments, advocates expressed their frustration with the city’s “ludicrous” claim. “The City wouldn’t have to invest any resources into enforcing the animal cruelty laws because the ritual wouldn’t be performed in the first place,” said Rina Deych, a plaintiff in the case against the city. “The NYPD would inform community leaders that, moving forward, they can no longer truck 60,000 chickens into Brooklyn and erect open-air slaughterhouses on the street due to the multiple city and state laws that are violated.”

When running for Mayor of NYC, Bill de Blasio said that animal rights would move into the mainstream if he was elected, yet his administration is using tax dollars to defend its decision to ignore an animal massacre that violates 15 city and state laws.

When asked by one of the Court of Appeals judges why the city was aiding and abetting in the crimes, Ms. Druker argued that, by providing a police presence, the city was merely maintaining order. The advocates say this response is also disingenuous.

“The NYPD provides massive flood lights and the orange traffic cones where the chickens are bled out onto the street after their throats are slit,” said Jill Carnegie with the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos. “If Druker was being honest with the judges, she would have acknowledged that our tax dollars are, in fact, being used to facilitate and partially underwrite this illegal massacre.”

Advocates who attended the oral arguments noted the irony of the city’s decision to defend crimes against animals. “When Bill de Blasio was running for Mayor of New York City in 2013, he publicly stated that animal rights would move into the mainstream if he was elected,” said Jessica Hollander, an animal rights activist in NYC. “Yet, five years later, he is defending animal torture in order to curry favor with the Orthodox Jewish voting bloc that commits it.”

A decision in the case is expected in forty to ninety days.

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After Months of Protests, NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett Resigns with Over Three Years Left in Her Term

August 7, 2018 by Leave a Comment

The News

Ten months after animal rights and public health advocates launched a campaign to hold her accountable for failing to enforce health codes violated during an annual ritual animal sacrifice called Kaporos, NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett resigned, announcing that she is moving to Boston to teach at Harvard.  Dr. Bassett is vacating her position just eight months into a four year term as NYC’s top doctor.  The announcement comes on the heels of several protests inside of the headquarters of the NYC Department of Health.

“Commissioner Bassett’s decision to resign and wash her hands of this scandal does nothing to help the tens of thousands of people and animals who she betrayed while in office,” said Nathan Semmel, an organizer in the campaign. “She had the power and legal obligation to stop a public massacre of baby birds that exposes some of NYC’s poorest residents to infectious diseases, but she chose to prioritize politics over public health. Quitting her post and moving 200 miles away from us doesn’t make her any less accountable.”

In October, 2017, NYC activists began to protest Commissioner Bassett over her support of Kaporos, a ritual animal sacrifice that takes place before Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. From October 2017 to July 2018, the activists disrupted six of her public speaking engagements and staged five protests in the lobby of the NYC Department of Health (DOH). The activists allege that Dr. Bassett is turning a blind eye to the health code violations because the ultra-Orthodox Jews who practice the ritual represent a powerful voting bloc that helped to elect her boss, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio.

During Kaporos, an estimated 60,000 six-week old chickens are intensively confined in crates without food or water for up to several days before being slaughtered and discarded. Many die of starvation, thirst and exposure before the ritual takes place. A toxicology reported submitted to the court as part of an ongoing lawsuit against the DOH states that the ritual poses a risk to public health in the neighborhoods where it takes place. While Commissioner Bassett has not publicly disputed the findings from the toxicology report or the activists’ and lawyers’ claims about the health code violations, she has issued a public statement asserting that “there remains no evidence that the use of chickens for Kaporos poses a significant risk to human health.”

Activists protest NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett over her ongoing refusal to ban a mass animal sacrifice that violates at least seven public health codes.

In anticipation of a protest during a talk that she was giving at the Boston University School of Public Health, Dr. Bassett attempted to defend her inaction on the grounds that her boss, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, would not allow it:  “Those of us who work in government face the reality of the fact that the people who appoint us have to go back to the public and back to the ballot box to be reappointed, so there’s always going to be a need for advocacy from people outside of government. For someone who is passionately committed to many issues embraced by advocates, it can be difficult to acknowledge the role that I play as a political appointee. I can’t always be at the barricades!”

“Dirty politics does not give Dr. Bassett a free pass to ignore a ritual that violates health codes, puts New Yorkers at risk of infectious disease and terrorizes baby animals,” said Donny Moss. “If Mayor de Blasio is instructing her to turn a blind eye, then it is her legal and moral duty to push back and assert her authority has NYC’s health czar.”

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