Last spring, at least 26 children and four adults contracted life-threatening E. coli infections after visiting petting zoos at the Central Florida Fair in Orlando, the Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City, and the Florida State Fair in Tampa. The E. coli bacteria was traced to six animals used by Ag-Venture Farm Shows, the company that supplied the animals at all three fairs.
But instead of shutting these exhibits down, health officials simply warned people to wash their hands after petting the animals, use hand sanitizer, and/or wear plastic gloves.
Heather Moore, senior writer for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, wrote the American Chronicle, saying that she thinks that these measures simply aren’t good enough when children’s lives are at risk, particularly as they do nothing to prevent people from inhaling the bacteria.
Thousands of people who visit petting zoos every year are exposed to what the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta calls a "significant risk" of contracting salmonella and E. coli infections from reptiles and domestic animals.
Tests over the years by health inspectors have shown that E. coli can be lurking in rafters, bleachers, walls, and in sawdust – not necessarily on just the animals.
Moore feels that agricultural exhibits such as petting zoos pose a real health threat to humans, especially to children. In addition, she feels that the animals who are in the petting zoos are also not adequately protected. Often penned in close quarters, the stress animals go through while being displayed and petted is inhumane. She also feels that animal exhibits are not educational, since children are rarely informed about the fact that most of the animals end up in slaughterhouses.
In conclusion, Moore states that she feels that animal exhibits “are bad news – they endanger public safety and exploit animals. It’s time to stop downplaying the risks and the abuse and shut them down for good.”