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In a comment on an answer on a recent question, this other question was posed:

Is it customary for farmers' markets to have live animals on premise at all, in Europe or North America? not just wild, even general livestock. are there regulations against it?

I think it's an interesting enough question in the present debates around live animal markets, so I've "stolen it". Additionally, I think it would be interesting for answers to distinguish between raised animals and captured ones. Also, discuss not only whether or not it's just "customary" but whether regulations allow it all to have live animals (and of what kind) in such "farmers' markets".

(For context: there are numerous press articles in the West criticizing the Chinese "wet market" practices. According to Wikipedia:

Media reports that fail to distinguish between all wet markets from those with live animals or wildlife, as well as insinuations of fostering wildlife smuggling, have been blamed for fueling Sinophobia related to the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic.

) Somewhat related; NYT article on the political/regulations struggle to raise chicken in US cities.

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    This seems more cultural than political. Farmers markets are for consumers to buy food to eat themselves. Pretty much the only animal the American consumers buy alive for food is shellfish, and live shellfish is found in farmers markets on the coasts where there are nearby fisheries. Aside from that, there’s be no market for live animals since few people want to slaughter their own animals, but that’s a cultural issue. It’s easy to buy live chickens, ducks, and rabbits in cities at an appropriate store, they’re not just no classified as food stores. – divibisan Apr 18 at 1:25
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    Public market? Open air market? A farmers' market is a market where farmers (i.e. producers) sell their wares. As most people raising animals are not qualified or equipped to slaughter and butcher animals (in Western Europe at any rate), they typically sell them live to a third party. It's much easier to sell dairy, fruit or vegetables without significant investment above and beyond what you already have on a farm so that's much more common on farmers' markets. – Relaxed Apr 18 at 1:28
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    @divibisan Culture is just as important to the discussion of politics as laws and regulations. That seems like a weak basis to exclude this question. – indigochild Apr 18 at 4:02
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    @Relaxed: while you are right that most (as in the majority people are not qualified for slaughtering animals, there are sizeable minorities that are qualified to home slaughter certain animals here in Germany: 1 in 1200 is a butcher, 1 in 200 Germans has a hunting license (both are qualified to even kill animals whose meat will be for sale). You can learn chicken or rabbit slaughtering for non-commercial purposes (home slaughtering) at your local small animal breeding club. And so on. – cbeleites unhappy with SX Apr 18 at 10:02
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    @Fizz: Slaughtering a chicken is not a big problem, it's plucking the damn thing that's a real pain. While there may not be many "wet markets" for food (In the US, at least), there are many other occasions to come into contact with animals. State fairs & other livestock exhibits, for instance. Or just among my neighbors, one's a horse trainer, a couple have goats, a number have chickens and ducks, the folks a ways up the road have cows and pigs. Not uncommon to have bears and the occasional mountain lion wandering around. And then there's hunting... – jamesqf Apr 18 at 16:29
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The answer is probably yes, but with restrictions.

I'm basing this on these guidelines by the Farmers Market Coalition:

3) Live animals (livestock or pets):

a) A vendor selling a food product at a Farmersʼ Market may not bring or keep live animals (livestock or pets) in or around his/her booth.

b) A food vendorʼs booth must be set up at least 20 feet from any animals (domesticated or livestock) being kept at a Farmersʼ Market. Animal exhibits such as 4-H animals, and live birds or livestock exhibits may not be set up within 20 feet of a food vendor.

c) In a Farmers Market that allows pets into the market, a vendor may allow the visitorsʼ pets to pass outside (to the front or side) of the booth.

d) The above prohibitions do NOT apply to service animals.

So, obviously the topic has come up before. This mostly deals with 4-H animals, but you get the idea.

Keep in mind that this will vary from region to region. Markets will have to comply with local restrictions, and the market itself may or may not allow it. So there are a lot of variables here.

That being said, it's not entirely impossible.

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  • What are 4-H animals? – cbeleites unhappy with SX Apr 18 at 9:36
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    @cbeleitesunhappywithSX 4-H is a youth agricultural organization. Participants both enter animals into competitions and display them for educational purposes. – chrylis -cautiouslyoptimistic- Apr 18 at 11:25
  • Ah, OK, we have that in some local/rural fairs as well: e.g. local breeders' associations showing animals. There may also be petting zoo corners. But that's rather at fairs than a weekly market. – cbeleites unhappy with SX Apr 18 at 13:05
  • @cbeleitesunhappywithSX Sorry. I forgot not everyone will know what that is. – Chipster Apr 18 at 17:59
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While that may be quibbling about the definition of "Farmer's Market," lobsters were traditionally sold living, both in shops and fishing villages. They are still available both in the US and Europe. On a slightly lower budget there are crabs, which I've seen sold alive in Europe, too.

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    ♫ ... crying cockles and mussels, alive! alive o! (and I've just realised that in the song, Mary Malone "died of a fever, and no one could save her" which is rather too apposite.) – James K Apr 18 at 6:26
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    in re "wet", wikipedia says: "The "wet" in "wet market" refers to the constantly wet floors due to the melting of ice used to keep food from spoiling, the washing of meat and seafood stalls and the seafood stalls and the spraying of fresh produce." – Fizz Apr 18 at 14:53
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    @Fizz, the OP asked very specifically about living animals, not floors. I'll dump the wet comment. – o.m. Apr 18 at 15:39
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    As a Mainer, this is not just a historical practice; live lobsters are sold at Farmers Markets today. All lobsters sold for private preparation are live because they spoil so quickly after death. Here's an article about the retirement of the supplier I've used for years. – Cecilia Apr 18 at 16:10
  • This question wasn't asked in isolation however. So... are there any documented cases/credible risks of zoonotic disease crossovers from lobsters or fish to people? Not to mention that lobsters are kept in water, which gets rid of the whole air transmission bit of the equation. – Italian Philosophers 4 Monica Apr 18 at 17:27
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I would expect to see live small animals at a French market every week. Things like rabbits, chickens etc. I would expect to be able to get live shell fish if I was any where near the sea.

I've seen similar at Portuguese markets on the one or two times I've visited them.

In general I'm talking about real farmers' markets where actual farmers buy and sell stuff, rather than the ones you see in cities where the food may have been on a farm once.

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  • Ah, the first poster that gets the point! So, it is done, in some instances, and apparently not forbidden by regulations in countries like France and Portugal. Well, maybe time to tighten that up in Europe, at the same time at which China is pressured to do the same. Oh, and being French, I never did see live animals for food sale while living in Paris, but I don't doubt your word for it. – Italian Philosophers 4 Monica Apr 18 at 17:12
  • Are these rabbits or chickens for immediate consumption or do you buy them to keep them and then every once in a while slaughter some? – cbeleites unhappy with SX Apr 18 at 18:47
  • I don't know for sure but the chickens could be for eggs, the rabbits I would expect get eaten when they get home. – Ian Turton Apr 18 at 19:16
  • In Antwerp (Belgium) there is the bird market, but the birds are pets not food (per se): vogeltjesmarktantwerpen.nl – Ivana Apr 21 at 22:45
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Here in , it is not customary to sell, say, live chickens or other live animals for immediate private consumption on a farmers' or weekly market. Since we can keep proper cooling chains, the one big advantage of selling live animals for direct consumption vanished decades ago.

OTOH,

  • animals are sold (auctioned) at what would be literally specialized farmer's markets - but we call those fairs or auctions (or exhibitions) rather than markets.
  • You can home slaughter for your own consupmtion, and of course you can buy the animals. That doesn't happen at the weekly grocery market, though.

In terms of zoonotic risks, we mitigate this by hygiene requirements.


I don't know whether there are specific regulations against selling live animals on farmers' markets (what I gather about the Chinese markets would anyways violate both general hygiene and animal welfare regulations).
But there are already economic reasons against that: buying live animals in order to slaughter and eat them immediately at home means a whole lot of work (and general mess), far more than buying some meat and cooking that. Plus the stress means a loss in meat quality: a farmer who cares about the quality of life for their animals would a) not want to expose them to such stress, and b) not be able to get the premium price for high quality meat. If you'd do the marketing according to animal welfare, it would be both more expensive and more work. The vast majority of people who don't have the practice, tools and space at their disposal could probably earn the money to buy organic meat in the time they need to slaughter and butcher the animal.

The big advantage of selling live animals for home consumption is that this is a way to keep the meat from spoiling without a proper cooling chain. Even including the hygienic problems of selling live animals for home slaughtering, it may still be the more hygienic option in certain parts of the world.

Home slaughtering

is allowed in Germany for home consumption (i.e. not for sale). You need to obey hygienic and animal welfare regulatiuns and the actual slaughtering needs to be done by someone who is sachkundig* (expert). Hygienic rules include animal health here (e.g. cattle needs to be seen by a vet before slaughtering). It is also possible and customary that you get an expert to do the actual killing, e.g. a butcher or a qualified hunter who shoots your cattle (or deer, see also below) on the pasture. Home slaughtering is done, but far more rare than, say, 40 years ago.

However, the customary way to do this is not buying the animal for immediate slaughter but to buy a young animal (or breed it), raise it and slaughter when it is "ripe". And someone who is doing that for personal consumption would typically not buy the animals at a market or shop or trader but at the local breeder's association or via their (online) classified ads (or those of the farmers' newspaper or even the local newspaper).

The alternative here to home slaughtering is to bring the animal to a butcher who can do the slaughtering and butchering far more easily where they have all the equipment - and then get back the meat and sausages. A similar procedure, btw., is customary for hunters: they kill and dress and if they don't have the equipment (e.g. a cooler that is large enough to hang a whole sow), a butcher either buys the dressed animal or processes it for the hunter. One difference is that the hunter is allowed to sell the venison (the hunter's exam includes relevant animal health and food hygiene for wildlife) whereas home slaughtered animals are not for sale.

One exception are carps. The traditional christmas/new year's eve carp was/is sold alive and then "watered" (kept in fresh water) for a week or so to remove any muddy taste from the lake it grew up in. Nowadays, also the vast majority of carps a sold dead (possibly chosen alive and then killed by the fish monger). Killing a carp again requires Sachkunde* since it is a vertebrate.

 Livestock markets/fairs

Traditionally, farmers' markets included livestock markets (just as there was a corn market and so on). I.e., farmers' market could be B2B in addition (cow is sold by farmer to butcher or to cattle trader) to the B2C meaning we nowadays associate with the term.

The bigger ones would rather be called a fair. Nowadays, many are fun fairs with only the name hinting at the live market, e.g. a local annual fair still had sheep and horse exhibitions by local breeders' associations till their 695th edition 2015. Apparenty, the Gallimarkt still has a livestock market section after more than 500 years.
OTOH, these fairs are more dry market than wet market (other than fun fair type fast food).

Instead of such livestock markets, AFAIK animal for slaughtering are nowadays sold either directly by the farmer to the butcher/slaughter house or to a livestock trader (livestock trader and animal transport is often one business).

"Livestock markets" or fairs still exist for stud (breeding) animals: these are fairs where the animals are exhibited, sold or auctioned but again they have nothing to do with grocery shopping.

Wild animals

  • For wild wild animals, catching them and bringing them to a market would already run foul of very general paragraphs of animal wellfare laws due to stress and animal that is not used to be so close to lots of humans will have.

  • In a sense the distinction wild animal vs. domesticated animal is a bit blurry. E.g. you can keep deer or mufflon (wild sheep) or even wild pigs. The difference to their wild cousins is that they are kept in a preserve, cannot mix with the truly wild ones and they are looked after by a vet if necessary. But like their wild cousins they are shot on the pasture.
    Also in some neighboring regions it is customary to let domesticated animals range pretty much like wild ones, e.g. pigs in the Mediterranean.

  • Last but not least, already roaming herds of sheep or cattle grazing on pasture do have increased risk of certain zoonotic diseases. E.g. tuberculosis is very rare nowadays in Germany. One of the possibilities how you can nevertheless catch it is via drinking raw milk of a cow that in turn got boving tuberculosis by meeting a coughing deer on the pasture.


* Sachkunde in German means you have the required expertise to do something. I.e. a hardskill that comprises both theoretic knowledge and being able to do it properly in practice.

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