City to vote on foie gras ban, new horse-drawn carriages rules

Activists at the Oct. 29 City Council committee hearing on several bills to bring New York City’s animal protection standards into the 21st century, according to lawmakers. (Photo: Mark Hallum/amNewYork

The City Council’s Health Committee on Tuesday approved bills that would ban horse-drawn carriages from operating during summer heatwaves in Central Park and keep foie gras out of New York City restaurants — both of which will be voted on by the full council on Wednesday.

The hearing room at 250 Broadway was filled to capacity with animal rights activists from Voter for Animal Rights and NYCLASS and some came from across the U.S. to attend, including Phillip Whiteman Jr., a chief of the Northern Cheyenne based in Montana.

If passed, the horse-drawn carriage bill would prevent the buggies from serving customers in Central Park whenever the air temperature or heat index reaches 90 degrees or higher. It also sets requirements for all handlers to keep the horses cool and comfortable in extreme heat.

NYCLASS Executive Director Edita Birnkrant called this a major step forward in the organization’s long road in achieving protections for horses laboring during heat advisories.

“In the year 2019 in New York City, we cannot continue to have horses enduring the misery of pulling several hundred pounds through city streets during the worst heat waves. It’s also a public safety risk for everyone,” Birnkrant said. “I’ve been documenting the horses working every summer and what we’re talking about are the hours of the hottest days when there are heat advisories and people don’t even want to be outdoors because the sun and humidity are so detrimental. We’ve observed that they’re not getting the business on those days or during those hours that are the hottest and most humid.”

Horse carriage operator Ariel Fintzi was in agreement that the bills would have a positive and necessary impact on the well-being of horses, including his own which are boarded in Central Park.

Phillip Whiteman Jr., the chief of the Northern Cheyenne, supports the use of horses in Central Park for the symbolism they carry in American culture, but is outspoken in his advocacy for proper treatment of the animals.

The committee also approved the bill to ban the consumption of foie gras (duck or goose liver), which became controversial after it was found that poultry producers sometimes keep ducks or geese in cages and force-feed them to grow their livers.

Councilwoman Alicka Ampry-Samuel explained why she voted in favor of the ban, noting her own diet choices and her belief that animals should not be slaughtered regardless of the method. Still, she was torn.

“For me it’s quite difficult to in one sense protect animals and in another sense cause harm for everyday people who live in New York,” Ampry-Samuel said. “But at the same time I would be a hypocrite if I were to in one sense vote against something that would protect animals and at the same defend everyday workers. So this is a challenge, it’s quite difficult, but I’m about protecting everyone.”

Councilman Mark Levine, who chairs the health committee, admitted that some of the bills would certainly have an impact on businesses, but that restaurants serving foie gras had three years to prepare their tables for new menu items.

Levine had his own bill in the package that requires animals arriving in a shelter to be vaccinated for Bordetella, a canine version of whooping cough that can be fatal.

A bill sponsored by City Councilwoman Carlina Rivera will also increase penalties on the netting and trafficking of wild birds such as pigeons shooting games in states such as New Jersey.