Singapore

Stalls here can sell live animals for meat

They can sell live animals for meat, as long as there are no violations, says Singapore Food Agency

It is not a regular wet market that you will find in the basement of Chinatown Complex in Smith Street.

It is a place where customers can buy live animals such as softshell turtles, bullfrogs and freshwater eels, have them slaughtered, and take them home to cook.

In recent weeks, such wet markets have come under global scrutiny, owing to the suspected links with the current Covid-19 pandemic that has claimed more than 120,000 lives worldwide.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, the Singapore Food Agency said last week that the slaughter of live turtles, frogs and eels at markets and food stalls is allowed as long as the vendors comply with the requirements under the Environmental Public Health Act, which covers food safety and hygiene.

This includes ensuring stall cleanliness and proper storage of food, it said.

The agency added that action will be taken in the case of violations, and that it has not detected any infringements in its regular inspections so far.

Scientists have found that the Sars-CoV-2 virus that causes the Covid-19 disease in humans is closely related genetically to coronaviruses isolated from bat populations.

Dr Richard Thomas, a spokesman for the wildlife trade-monitoring network Traffic, told ST that while the origin of the Sars-CoV-2 virus is unclear, there is widespread speculation about a connection to the trade in wild animals.

RISK

Said Dr Thomas: "The critical thing to bear in mind is that the disease risk comes from the keeping of animals in cramped conditions in close proximity to people - the conditions under which viruses are enabled to cross the species barrier and infect people."

When ST visited the wet market at Chinatown Complex last Tuesday, dozens of American bullfrogs were seen packed in overcrowded cages at one stall. The cages appeared to be lined with animal waste.

In an earlier trip to the market last month, ST also saw that Asiatic softshell turtles - reportedly caught in the wild - were for sale at the stalls and were held in display tanks.

Wildlife rescue group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) said that based on investigations it carried out last month, the slaughter of live animals at the wet market stalls took place in close proximity to where meat sold to the public was placed, and that this poses a serious risk of disease transmission.

Acres noted that the softshell turtles displayed were found with rostral abrasions - which resulted from the creatures rubbing their noses against the nets they were kept in.

Open wounds such as these can easily develop into infections, said the organisation.

Said a spokesman for Acres: "In addition to welfare concerns, physiological stress arising from hunger and overcrowded conditions often suppresses the animals' immune system, increasing the potential for disease outbreaks and spillovers."

CONSUMER ISSUES