Virginian Asian Supermarket in Hot Water Over Live Animal Sales

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Court case pits animal activists and Asian customers against each other

First, the trouble with shark fin, and now it's coming up bullfrogs. This week, two store managers at Virginia's Great Wall Grocery face felony charges for selling live animals to customers wanting freshly killed meat.

The case is expected to go to court in Fairfax County this week, and the Washington Post notes the charges came about an undercover, two-month sting last spring that uncovered live eels, bullfrogs, turtles, and crayfish being sold at the market. The managers are charged in violation of a Virgina state law prohibiting poaching of wildlife for its meat, pelt, or antlers; however, the law is meant to protect endangered species, and none of the seized animals were endangered. The confusion remains around the language of "wild animals" in the law; turtles and eels are not defined by the state as wild.

While the court charges may be immediate, the effects of the charges against the supermarket may be long-lasting: the supermarket serves a large Asian population, and is one of the largest international markets in the D.C. area. The case has caused tension between those defending animal rights and those defending the growing Asian population from discrimination. The managers' attorney, Shaoming Cheng, said to the Washington Post, "If Chinese people like to eat yellow eels and it’s part of their traditional diets — just like Russian people like to eat fish eggs — and those eels are farm raised and are not an endangered species... why not?" (The managers noted that the animals sold were farm-raised, and not picked from their natural habitats.)

Virginia isn't the only state to debate live animals sold in markets; last year, Californian Asian-Americans fought back against a state commission blocking the importation of turtles and bullfrogs. The activists said the animals were traditional to their diets.