The practice of selling and slaughtering live turtles and frogs at wet markets in Singapore has been banned since December.
The move came after a joint appeal by wildlife rescue group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres), and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), to raise the safety and welfare standards of live animals sold for food.
In response to queries from The Straits Times last month, the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) confirmed on Wednesday that the practice of selling and slaughtering live frogs and turtles at market stalls has been banned following a review conducted in consultation with the National Parks Board and the National Environment Agency (NEA).
Said the SFA: "While the public health risks posed by such slaughtering activity are low, SFA and NEA started phasing out slaughtering and sale of live frogs and turtles at market stalls since June 2020 to further reduce the risk and improve environmental hygiene and food safety."
The review of the treatment of live animals sold for food was announced in Parliament in April last year, after health concerns were raised about possible disease transmission at wet markets.
This came after the Covid-19 pandemic was suspected to have originated in a live seafood and fresh produce market in Wuhan, China.
Earlier in March this year, a World Health Organisation-led research mission concluded that the virus most likely spread from animals to humans either directly from a bat or through another mammal possibly sold at the market, where live and dead animals such as weasels, civets and bats are sold as food.
Animal welfare groups welcomed the ban, which followed an investigation by Acres at wet market stalls in March last year. It found that live animals were slaughtered in close proximity to the meat sold to the public, which Acres said posed a serious risk of disease transmission.
Ms Anbarasi Boopal, co-chief executive of Acres, lauded the new rules as a "progressive step" and called for improved hygiene and welfare of live animals sold as food at other food and beverage establishments.
She said: "At some coffee shops, we have observed that stallholders keep live animals in close proximity to where people are eating."
More can also be done to curb the sale of live, wild-caught Asiatic soft-shell turtles, which cannot be kept as pets in Singapore but are imported for consumption, added Ms Anbarasi.
According to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora Trade Database, Singapore was the top importer of live, wild-caught Asiatic soft-shell turtles from Indonesia in 2019, with more than 18,200 turtles. It is not known how many of these were re-exported.
Acres has also rescued many of these freshwater turtles that were released at beaches by members of the public who were unaware that their act of kindness leads to a "slow painful death", said Ms Anbarasi.
Dr Jaipal Singh Gill, executive director of SPCA, said the ban marks "one of the strongest moves in Singapore's history to protect animals in this industry".
Said Dr Jaipal: "The Covid-19 pandemic has taught us that animal health and welfare are tied to human welfare.
"Some zoonotic diseases - such as swine flu and bird flu - are transmitted when there is close proximity between humans and animals that are kept in poor conditions."
Acres and SPCA are also appealing for the slaughter of animals to be restricted to premises regulated by the authorities and to end the sale of live animals at wet markets.