SINGAPORE: The sale and slaughter of live animals in wet markets is currently being reviewed, taking into consideration "international benchmarking and scientific evidence", said Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor in Parliament on Tuesday (May 5).
Dr Khor was replying to a question from MP Louis Ng on whether the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) would consider banning the display, slaughter and sale of wild-caught live soft-shelled turtles at the wet markets due to zoonotic disease transmission risks.
Zoonotic disease is a type of disease that passes from insects and animals to humans.
"The Singapore Food Agency (SFA), in consultation with NParks and the National Environment Agency (NEA), has evaluated the risk of zoonotic disease transmission by reptiles associated with the sale and slaughter of live turtles," said Dr Khor.
"Transmission risks are found to be low, as long as food safety and hygiene standards are maintained. There have been no cases of zoonotic disease transmission from these animals at the wet market stalls."
Dr Khor added that in general, foodborne bacteria such as salmonella can be found in all live animals and raw meat, and these can be transmitted to people through direct contact or ingestion.
"To prevent foodborne illnesses, both stall vendors and patrons should observe good food safety and hygiene practices, such as the washing of hands with soap and water before and after handling raw meat, and by thoroughly cooking the meat, which helps to kill any harmful bacteria found in the food," she said.
"Nonetheless, agencies are reviewing the sale and slaughter of live animals in wet markets taking into consideration international benchmarking and scientific evidence, and will continue with efforts to improve public health and environmental hygiene standards in Singapore, including our wet markets."
RISK SIMILAR TO WHAT BROUGHT ON COVID-19: LOUIS NG
However Mr Ng pointed out that he believed there was a risk "very similar" to what might have led to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"These animals are wild-caught, which means they came from another country and we don't know what disease they may be carrying," he said.
"From the point of capture to transport to when they are starved in Singapore, they are terribly stressed, which might weaken their immunity, increase the chance of catching disease again ... The most important point is this is not a staple food."
Dr Khor replied that the vast majority of zoonotic pathogens are associated with mammals and birds rather than reptiles. This was why the slaughtering of live poultry at wet markets was stopped in 1992 and centralised at slaughterhouses, she added.
She also reiterated her point that transmission risks have been found to be low.
As part of the review, MEWR will consult the relevant stakeholders and share the outcome when ready, added Dr Khor.
Dr Khor also pointed out that the NEA has stopped tendering out wet market stalls for the sale of live turtles since 2012.
Dr Khor said that there were currently four stallholders across wet markets managed by NEA that sold live turtles.
"Existing wet market stalls that are currently allowed to slaughter and sell live turtles can carry on their trade if they comply with food safety and hygiene requirements under the Environmental Public Health Act. This includes ensuring stall cleanliness and proper storage practices," said Dr Khor.
Enforcement action will be taken by SFA against vendors for food safety and hygiene infringements. SFA has not detected such infringements during its regular inspections, added Dr Khor.